Video posted Sunday showed students at Tehran's Shahid Behesthti University walking around an American and an Israeli flag that had been painted on the floor suggesting that their beef was not with those nations but with Iranian leadership. As a Basij officer walked over the painted area, the crowd began to shout and called him "dishonorable" -- an affront in Iranian culture.
The protests have garnered international scrutiny amid fears of a crackdown by security forces. "To the leaders of Iran -- DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching," tweeted Trump. "More importantly, the USA is watching."
Britain too issued a complaint over the detention of its ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, which it said was "a flagrant violation of international law."
Macaire, later released, said he had come to pay respects at what was said to be a vigil for the victims of the doomed Ukrainian flight. He added in a tweet that he had left after five minutes when chanting broke out.
Iran summoned Macaire for his attending "an illegal rally," according to a statement from Iran's foreign ministry. Later that day, pro-government demonstrators burned U.K. and U.S. flags.
Despite the discontent, it remains unclear whether the protests represent a strong threat to the country's rulers.
"We are seeing Iran's population of over 80 million growing increasingly polarized and frustrated based on various issues. Some over the economy, others over corruption, lack of political freedoms, Soleimani's assassination, and mismanagement across most branches of government and military," said Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "The support base for the Islamic Republic is getting smaller and more segments of Iran's population are questioning the legitimacy of its leaders -- but nevertheless the support for the ruling elite remains powerful enough (no matter its shrinking size) to maintain its survival."
Staff writers Bulos reported from Baghdad and Parvini from Los Angeles.
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