Iran marks end of 2009 vote unrest amid new demonstrations

TEHRAN, IRAN: Iran on Saturday marked the end of protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election with government-sanctioned demonstrations as new unauthorized rallies sparked by anger over the country's ailing economy have struck major cities.

State television aired live footage from across the country of those supporting the government, waving flags and carrying banners bearing the image of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The demonstrations come after the economic protests began Thursday, sparked by social media posts and a surge in prices of basic food supplies, like eggs and poultry. A government spokesman on Wednesday blamed the higher egg prices on an outbreak of avian flu.

Thousands went into the streets in several cities in Iran, beginning first in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city and a holy site for Shiite pilgrims. Demonstrators also have criticized Iran's government during the protests. There have been arrests reported in some areas.

The spontaneous demonstrations appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since its 2009 Green Movement arose over allegations of voter fraud in the re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, information about them remains scarce as both state-run and semi-official media in Iran have not widely reported on the protests.

The country's powerful Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened in the economic protests as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election. These new protests put new pressure on President Hassan Rouhani as his signature nuclear deal with world powers remains in peril and many say they've yet to see any economic benefit from the accord.

Early on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out his support for the protests.

"Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption & its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad," he wrote. "Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! (hashtag) IranProtests."

It's unclear what effect Trump's support would have. Iranians already are largely skeptical of him over his refusal to re-certify Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. Trump's insistence in an October speech on using the term "Arabian Gulf" in place of the Persian Gulf also has also riled the Iranian public.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's comments in June to Congress saying American is working toward "support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government" has been used by Iran's government of a sign of foreign interference in its internal politics.

The State Department issued a statement Friday supporting the protests, referencing Tillerson's earlier comments.

"Iran's leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos," the statement said.