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Gunfire, blasts in western Iran amid Mahsa Amini protests

The sound of apparent gunshots and explosions echoed early Monday through the streets of a western Iranian city, one of the hot spots of protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman. At least one man reportedly was killed by security forces in a village nearby, activists said.

The incidents come as demonstrations rage on in cities, towns and villages across Iran over the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police in Tehran.

Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating. Subsequent videos have shown security forces beating and shoving female protesters, including women who have torn off their mandatory headscarf, or hijab.

Challenge to Iran’s leadership

From Tehran and elsewhere, online videos have emerged despite authorities disrupting the internet. Videos showed some women marching through the streets without headscarves, while others confronted authorities and lit fires in the street as the protests continue into a fourth week. The demonstrations represent one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 2009 Green Movement protests.

The violence early Monday occurred in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, as well as in the village of Salas Babajani near the border with Iraq, according to a Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights. Amini was Kurdish and her death has been particularly felt in Iran’s Kurdish region, where demonstrations began Sept. 17 at her funeral there.

Hengaw posted footage it described as smoke rising in one neighbourhood in Sanandaj, with what sounded like rapid rifle fire echoing through the night sky. The shouts of people could be heard.

There was no immediate word if people had been hurt in the violence. Hengaw later posted a video online of what appeared to be collected shell casings from rifles and shotguns, as well as spent tear gas canisters.

Thousands of people gathered for a rally before marching in downtown Vancouver on Saturday to call on Iran to end laws requiring women to wear hijabs in public and to abolish the country’s use of capital punishment. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Authorities offered no immediate explanation about the violence early Monday in Sanandaj, some 400 kilometres west of Tehran. Esmail Zarei Kousha, the governor of Iran’s Kurdistan province, alleged without providing evidence that unknown groups “plotted to kill young people on the streets” on Saturday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday.

Kousha also accused these unnamed groups that day of shooting a young man in the head and killing him — an attack that activists roundly have blamed on Iranian security forces. They say Iranian forces opened fire after the man honked his car horn at them. Honking has become one of the ways activists have been expressing civil disobedience — an action that has seen riot police in other videos smashing the windshields of passing vehicles.

In the village of Salas Babajani, some 100 kilometres southwest of Sanandaj, Iranian security forces repeatedly shot a 22-year-old man protesting there who later died of his wounds, Hengaw said. It said others had been wounded in the shooting.

Women cut their hair in solidarity with Iranian protesters: 

It remains unclear how many people have been killed in the demonstrations and the security force crackdown targeting them. State television last suggested at least 41 people had been killed in the demonstrations as of Sept. 24. In the over two weeks since, there has been no update from Iran’s government.

An Oslo-based group, Iran Human Rights, estimates at least 185 people have been killed. This includes an estimated 90 people killed in violence in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan.

The London-based group Amnesty International said security forces killed 66 people, including children, in a bloody crackdown on Sept. 30, and that more people were killed in the area in subsequent incidents. Iranian authorities have described the Zahedan violence as involving unnamed separatists, without providing details or evidence.

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