Iran’s leaders were confronted by unauthorized protests in major cities for the third straight day on Saturday, with crowds aiming their anger at the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and some demanding that he step down.
The demonstrators first took to the streets of Mashhad, one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam, on Thursday. By Saturday, dozens of people had been arrested and the police had fired tear gas to disperse crowds.
On Saturday night, the protests turned violent, with at least two demonstrators shot in the western town of Dorud, according to a series of videos posted on social media. At least one of the videos was verified by BBC Persian. It could not be determined who was responsible for the gunfire.
The protests, which erupted over declining economic conditions, corruption and a lack of personal freedoms, presented a serious challenge to the government of President Hassan Rouhani, who won re-election on promises to revitalize the economy.
On Saturday, the angry crowds turned out on the same day that an annual pro-government rally took place in Tehran to commemorate counter-demonstrations against those who had challenged the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2009.
But the pro-government rallies, planned for 1,200 cities and towns, according to the state media, were overshadowed in intensity by Iranians in Tehran shouting, “Death to the dictator” and “Clerics should get lost,” witnesses said.
Others chanted: “Shame on you, Seyyed Ali Khamenei,” using an honorific for the supreme leader. “Let the country go.” Some protesters burned a banner with an image of his face.
Video shared on social media on Saturday showed Iranians directly calling for Mr. Khamenei to step down, and also chanting, “Referendum, referendum, this is the slogan of the people.” (After the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic was established with a referendum.)
Overtly political demonstrations are rare in Iran, where security services are omnipresent, and officials called on the crowds to halt them.
The Interior Ministry urged Iranians on Saturday “not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens,” according to the BBC.
The Revolutionary Guards, which along with its Basij militia spearheaded a crackdown against protesters in 2009, said in a statement carried by state news media on Saturday that efforts were underway to replicate that unrest, and that Iran “will not allow the country to be hurt.”
Later in the evening, the police fired tear gas to disperse crowds protesting at Tehran’s central Vali-e Asr Square, a witness said.
About 4,000 people, meanwhile, turned out for the annual pro-government rally in the capital, state media reported. State television stations showed marchers carrying banners in support of Mr. Khamenei in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.
Typically, pro-government demonstrations are orchestrated by the state, and many of those attending are bused in. The rallies took on added significance after the unauthorized demonstrations — the largest protests in years — began over the rise in the price of food supplies.
“Young people are angry and frustrated, without a hope in the future,” said Nader Karimi Juni, a reformist journalist. “If they join these small groups of determined students, there could be a real problem.”
President Trump tweeted support for the protesters, saying the government should respect the people’s right to express themselves. “The world is watching!” Mr. Trump said.