Crowd confronts a cleric when Iran tower collapses killing 32

Dubai United Arab Emirates — Angry protesters over a building collapse in southwestern Iran that killed at least 32 people shouted an envoy sent by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sparking a crackdown that saw protesters at a riot police club fire tear gas, according to analyzed online videos. Monday.

The demonstration directly challenged the Iranian government’s response to the disaster a week ago as pressure mounts in the Islamic Republic over soaring food prices and other economic problems amid the disintegration of its nuclear deal with world powers.

While the protests so far remain leaderless, it appears that even Arab tribes in the region have joined them on Sunday, raising the risk of further unrest. Already, tensions between Tehran and the West escalated after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Friday seized two Greek oil tankers that had been seized at sea.

Ayatollah Mohsen Heydari al-Kasir tried to address angry mourners near the site of the 10-storey Metropole building, but hundreds gathered Sunday night instead, booing and screaming.

Surrounded by bodyguards, the ayatollah, in his 60s, tried to carry on but could not.

“What is happening?” The clergyman whispered to a bodyguard, then bowed to tell him something.

Then the clergyman tried to address the crowd again: “Dear ones, please keep calm, as a sign of respect for Abadan, his martyrs and dear (victims) the entire Iranian nation is in mourning tonight.”

The crowd responded by shouting: “Shameless!”

Then the live broadcast of the event was interrupted on state television. The demonstrators later chanted: “I will kill you, I will kill.” I will kill whoever killed my brother! ”

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The Tehran-based daily al-Hamshahri and the semi-official Fars news agency said protesters had attacked the platform where state television had set up its camera and cut off its broadcasts.

Police ordered the crowd not to chant anti-Islamic Republic slogans and then ordered them to leave, calling their gathering illegal. A video later showed officers confronting protesters and being beaten with batons as clouds of tear gas rose. At least one officer fired what appeared to be a rifle, though it was unclear whether it was live fire or “beanbag” rounds designed to stun.

It was not immediately clear if anyone had been injured or if the police had made any arrests.

The details in the videos are consistent with the known features of Abadan, which is located about 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran. Foreign Farsi television channels described the firing of tear gas and other shots.

Independent news gathering is still very difficult in Iran. During the unrest, Iran cut off internet and telephone connections to the affected areas, while limiting the movement of journalists within the country. Reporters Without Borders describes the Islamic Republic as the third worst country in the world for journalism – after only North Korea and Eritrea.

In the wake of the tower’s collapse in Abadan last Monday, authorities acknowledged that the building’s owner and corrupt government officials had allowed construction to continue on the Metropol building despite fears of poor manufacturing. Authorities have arrested 13 people as part of a broad investigation into the disaster, including the city’s mayor.

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Rescue teams pulled three more bodies from under the rubble on Monday, bringing the death toll in the collapse to 32, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. The authorities fear that more people may fall under the rubble.

The fatal collapse raised questions about the safety of similar buildings in the country and highlighted an ongoing crisis in Iranian construction projects. The collapse reminded many of the 2017 fire and the collapse of the famous Plasco building in Tehran that killed 26 people.

In Tehran, the city’s emergency department has warned that 129 high-rise buildings in the capital remain “unsafe,” based on a survey conducted in 2017. The country’s public prosecutor, Mohammad Javad Moataziri, promised to address the problem immediately.

Abadan has also seen disasters in the past. In 1978, an arson attack at Cinema Rex – just a few blocks from the collapsed building in modern Abadan – killed hundreds. Anger over the fire caused unrest in Iran’s oil-rich regions and helped spark the Islamic revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Abadan, in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, is home to Iran’s Arab minority, who have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens of the Persian nation. Arab separatists in the region have attacked pipelines and security forces in the past. Video clips and Al-Hamshahri newspaper indicated that two tribes had arrived in the city to support the protests.

Meanwhile, one of the two Greek tankers seized by Iran on Friday turned on its tracking devices for the first time since the incident. The oil tanker Prudent Warrior was given a satellite position Monday off Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port, according to data from MarineTraffic.com analyzed by the Associated Press.

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Five armed guards were aboard the Prudent Warrior on Monday, although Iranian authorities allowed the crew to use their mobile phones, said George Vackertzis, the ship’s chief financial officer, Polembros Shipping.

“Everything is political and in the hands of the Greek Foreign Ministry and the Iranian government,” Vakertzis told the Associated Press.

On Monday evening, Iranian state television broadcast footage of the raid on the “Prudent Warrior”. The video showed masked members of the Revolutionary Guards landing a helicopter on the ship and then storming the bridge of the civilian ship, armed with assault rifles.

It is still unclear where the second ship, Delta Poseidon, is.

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Follow Jon Gambrell and Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP and www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.

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