Middle East

Iran accuses US of ‘grotesque’ incitement through social media

Tehran accused US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of inciting Iranians to protest against the government through a series of tweets and described US interference in Iranian issues as "grotesque."It also pointed to a US State Department official's statement on Tuesday that the US was communicating with anti-government protesters in the country through its Facebook and Twitter pages in Farsi, and was encouraging them to rally."The President and Vice President of the United States, in their numerous absurd tweets, incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts," the letter sent overnight reads. "The US Department of State went so far as admitting that the US Government wants to encourage protestors in Iran to change their Government, admitting that the US is engaged in interfering with the internal affairs of Iran through Facebook and Twitter."

State department: We 'encourage' protesters

State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said on Tuesday that Iranians were using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access Facebook and Twitter pages where the department was communicating with protesters.The Iranian government restricted access to social media at the height of the protests over the weekend, but many Iranians also use VPNs so the government cannot track their online activity. "We want to encourage the protestors to continue to fight for what's right and to open up Iran," Goldstein said.He said that social-media apps were "legitimate avenues of communication." "And people in Iran and throughout should be able to access those sites."The anti-government protests, the most powerful challenge to the regime in years, appeared to have fizzled Thursday, following a claim by Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari that the unrest was officially over.The protests began a week ago over Iran's stagnant economy and the rising cost of living, and developed into a broader outcry against the government. Now pro-government protests are taking their place, and on Thursday, regime supporters marched through parts of the country for a second day in a row. Iranian and US officials have traded barbs for the past week, and Tehran maintains that the US and its allies orchestrated the unrest.There is no evidence that Washington had any direct role in orchestrating the anti-government protests, beyond the encouragement through social media and published remarks.Iran deal deadlines loom as Trump weighs sanctions  Pence doubled down on that stance overnight, blaming the Obama administration for failing to help Iran's "brave protesters" in mass protests in 2009. "This time, we will not be silent," he wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post."Today, the Iranian people are once again rising up to demand freedom and opportunity, and under President Trump, the United States is standing with them."He criticized European nations and the UN for failing to "forcefully speak out" on Iran. "The president and I call on leaders of freedom-loving nations across the world to condemn Iran's unelected dictators and defend the Iranian people's unalienable right to chart their own future and determine their own destiny."On Thursday, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said 42,000 people had taken part in the anti-government rallies, which was "not a high number" in his view, state media reported. CNN has not been able to independently verify how many people took part. He said the protests went on for six days because of the "accommodating manner" of Iran's security forces and officials.At least 21 people were killed and 450 were arrested in the protests, many in clashes with security forces trying to quell the rallies.

Iran calls on Telegram to block channels

Iran threatens to shut down Telegram social media appThe Iranian government had restricted the use of social-media apps Telegram and Instagram to quell the unrest. It has said those restrictions will be lifted on Friday, and there were signs Thursday that it had begun easing some of them.But at the same time, Iran has called on Telegram to block "terrorist channels," according to state TV IRIB, in another apparent effort to prevent more protests. A temporary block on Telegram was first imposed on Sunday after anti-government protests throughout the country. Telegram removed at least one opposition channel, citing calls for violence, but Telegram CEO Pavel Durov has refused to shut down other channels that he said were peaceful.State media is reporting a "heated" market for VPNs since the government began restricting the apps.

CNN's Natalie Gallon, Kara Fox and Paul Murphy contributed to this report.

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