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How Iranians See The Fuel Price Protests Happening Across Their Country


Deadly protests across Iran appear to be over for now. They began with a spike in fuel prices, and they turned violent fast. News of just how violent has been slow to spread because Iran cut Internet access in much of the country.

Now the Internet is back up, and Iranians and the world are getting a clearer picture of the violence. Amnesty International says more than 200 people died. The government rejects that but has acknowledged that security forces killed some protesters. Cecilia Udden of Swedish Public Radio has been on the ground. She joins me now from Tehran.

And Cecilia, give us a sense of the scale of these protests and how widespread they were.

CECILIA UDDEN: They were more widespread than any other protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They spread to more than 200 places, and they did turn violent, as you said.

KELLY: Tell me a little bit more about what had people so angry that they took to the streets. I mentioned that the initial spark was gas prices, that suddenly, filling up your car cost 50% more than it had the day before. But this was about much deeper grievances over the government there.

UDDEN: Yes, definitely. Protests in Iran often start off with price hikes. Last time, two years ago, it was the price of eggs. But very rapidly, people started chanting against the regime, against the supreme leader. And this is something new in protests in Iran that you hear people say (non-English language spoken), which means death to Khamenei, the supreme leader. And this, of course, has deeply worried the regime here.

KELLY: As you have interviewed people in the streets, what have they told you?

UDDEN: Well, they are divided. Those who support the regime say that they celebrate the victory and that they are against all these people who took to the streets and violently tried to overthrow the government.

However, I meet - continuously meet young people who say that they hate the government, who want to change the system but don't know how to. I met (inaudible) a young woman, a student of literature, 22 years old, whose name we are not revealing, of course. She told me that she wishes the death of the regime every day. And she didn't take part in the protests, but she told me she was brave enough to comment on Ayatollah Khamenei's Instagram account, telling him that, you thrive on young people's blood.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But I don't know yet he read it or no.

UDDEN: But you can be in trouble for doing that, no?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I don't know (laughter).

KELLY: I gather one thing that these protests have revealed is divisions within Iranian society. Not everyone is critical of the regime. Many are criticizing the people who would like to reform it.

UDDEN: Yes. Now, many people in Iran blame the United States for empowering the hard-liners. When the U.S. left the nuclear agreement, the hard-liners triumphed. And they are now able to say to all the reformists, we told you so. The reformists have been very vocal, but they are now being criticized by all these young people who say this is not a regime that is capable of reforming itself.

And I've spoken to several of these more or less well-known reformists who now find themselves in the awkward position of defending the system because they fear the consequences of toppling the regime, which would be chaos, instability and infighting and so on. One of them is professor Sadegh Zibakalam, a historian, political scientist, who often gets in trouble with the regime. And he says reform must come from within, something the younger generation does not seem to believe is possible any longer.

KELLY: That is Cecilia Udden of Swedish Public Radio, speaking to us from Tehran.

Thank you.

UDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.