Tehran: Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief announced the "end of the sedition" on Wednesday as tens of thousands rallied in a show of strength for the country's Islamic rulers after days of deadly unrest.
General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the Guards only intervened "in a limited way" against fewer than 15,000 "trouble-makers" nationwide, adding that a large number had been arrested. Protests over economic problems broke out in Iran's second city Mashhad on December 28 and quickly spread across the country, turning against the regime as a whole. A total of 21 people have died in the unrest, with protesters attacking government buildings and police stations in some areas.
"Today we can announce the end of the sedition," Jafari said, quoted on the Guards' website.
"A large number of the trouble-makers at the centre of the sedition, who received training from counter- revolutionaries... have been arrested and there will be firm action against them," he said.
Jafari spoke after thousands of pro-regime demonstrators took to the streets.
Chants of "Leader, we are ready" were heard as images showed thousands rallying in the cities of Qom, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and elsewhere. The demonstrators waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as placards saying "Death to seditionists".
A heavy police presence was still on the streets of Tehran, along with a large number of Revolutionary Guards.
General Jafari added those behind the protests had "intervened massively on social media" but that "once restrictions were started, the troubles reduced". Telegram and Instagram were blocked on cellphones soon after the protests began on December 28. Telecoms Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi said Telegram would only be unblocked if it removed "terrorist" content.
"I had mail exchanges with the head of Telegram and I told him that the continuation of Telegram's activities is conditioned on the suppression of terrorist content," he said.
There were few reports of anti-regime protests overnight, although it remained difficult to verify information from the provinces. President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope in a phone call with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the protests would end in a few days, a Turkish presidential source said. The political establishment has closed ranks against the unrest, saying the protests were part of a foreign plot to destabilise the regime.
"The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation," Khamenei said on Tuesday. US President Donald Trump said Iranians were trying to "take back" their government, extending a drumbeat of encouragement for the protests.