TEHRAN, Iran — Breaking his silence over nationwide protests that included calls for his ouster, Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the demonstrations on “enemies of Iran,” saying they were meddling in its internal affairs.
The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the demonstrations — the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election — came after a bloody night that saw protesters try to storm a police station and the first deaths among its security forces. The unrest has killed at least 21 people in the past six days.
The protests began Dec. 28 in Mashhad over the weak economy and a jump in food prices. They have since expanded to cities and towns in nearly every province. Hundreds have been arrested, and a prominent judge warned that some could face the death penalty.
Speaking to black-chador-clad women who were relatives of veterans and war dead, the 78-year-old Khamenei warned of an enemy “waiting for an opportunity, for a crack through which it can infiltrate.”
“Look at the recent days’ incidents,” he said. “All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilized various means, including money, weapons, politics and (the) intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution.”
Khamenei avoided identifying any foreign countries, although he promised to elaborate in the coming days. Undoubtedly high on his list is the U.S., where President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for the protests for several days.
On Tuesday, he wrote that “the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.”
“All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets,’” Trump wrote, apparently referring to the nuclear deal reached under his predecessor. “The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”
It is unclear what effect Trump’s tweets are having on the protests. Iran’s state TV reported on his tweets in its news broadcasts, and some people have shared them online, but many in Iran distrust him because he has refused to re-certify the 2015 nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi urged Trump to stop tweeting and focus on his own country’s problems.
“It is better for him to try to address the U.S.’ internal issues like the murder of scores killed on a daily basis in the United States during armed clashes and shootings, as well as millions of the homeless and hungry people in the country,” Ghasemi said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
The U.S. government called for the U.N. Security Council and U.N. Human Rights Council to hold emergency meetings on Iran, with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations saying the world body “must speak” on the issue.
“Nowhere is the urgency of peace, security and freedom being tested more than in Iran,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, adding that U.S. officials “applaud the tremendous courage of the Iranian people.”
Haley said the U.S. would be calling for emergency sessions in the coming days. Ambassador Kairat Umarov of Kazakhstan, whose country currently holds the Security Council presidency, said the requested meeting was under discussion but not yet scheduled.
Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters, has blamed foreign adversaries for domestic unrest in the past. In 2009, as Green Movement demonstrations rattled his government, he said the postelection unrest was calculated by Iran’s enemies “whether or not its leaders know.”
But that’s not to say Iran doesn’t face foreign adversaries. Gulf Arab nations have been watching the protests carefully, with Saudi-funded satellite channels in particular playing up the unrest. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long a foe, has praised the protesters.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the exiled opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq was inciting the violence. According to his website, Rouhani spoke by telephone with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, and urged France to stop hosting the group, known as the MEK, which fled after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The protests began over the economy, which has improved since the nuclear deal that saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.
That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which the government has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have sparked the protests.
Analysts suggest the protests starting in Mashhad mean conservatives pushed them forward as a way to challenge Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric whose administration struck the nuclear deal. The apparently leaderless protests, fanned in part by a messaging app called Telegram, then grew beyond their control to include violent confrontations, analysts say.
The government has since shut down access to Telegram and the photo-sharing app Instagram, which now join Facebook and Twitter in being banned.
The Trump administration called on Iran’s government to stop blocking Instagram and other popular social media sites. U.S. Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said Instagram, Telegram and other platforms are “legitimate avenues for communication.”
Early Tuesday, state TV reported rioters tried to break into a police station in the town of Qahdarijan to steal guns, leading to clashes that killed six people. Two more were killed in the town of Khomeinishahr, while a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and a police officer were killed in the town of Najafabad, according to local media.
The towns are all in the central province of Isfahan, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Tehran.
Rouhani and others have warned that the government wouldn’t hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers. None of the protest rallies so far have received permission from the Interior Ministry, making them illegal.
In Tehran alone, 450 protesters have been arrested in the last three days, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported Tuesday. ILNA quoted Ali Asghar Nasserbakht, a deputy governor of Tehran, as saying security forces arrested 200 protesters on Saturday, 150 on Sunday and 100 on Monday. So far, authorities have not released a nationwide figure for arrests.
The head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court also reportedly warned that arrested protesters could potentially face the death penalty.
“Obviously one of their charges can be Moharebeh,” or waging war against God, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Mousa Ghazanfarabadi as saying. Moharebeh is punishable by death in Iran.
If she could, there isn’t a thing Virginia Smith would change about being Chippewa Falls’ longest tenured and first — and so far only — female mayor.
“I think if you had to do anything different, you wouldn’t, would you?” Dick Smith asked his mom.
“No,” Virginia said confidently.
Now residing in Bloomington, Minn., the longest-serving mayor in Chippewa Falls’ history will be back in the Chippewa Valley as the Chippewa Falls Public Library dedicates its large meeting room to her at an event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6. The dedication event will include Smith and her family, as Smith makes her way back to Chippewa Falls for the first time in years.
Besides her time as mayor, Virginia Smith served the city as a city council member for nine years and worked with the Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army and for the beautification of the city, Dick Smith said. She served the Second Ward while on the council.
“She dedicated her life to the city of Chippewa Falls for a good span of it, so we were very proud to hear we were considered,” Dick said. “I think at the time I didn’t realize what she accomplished.”
The idea to dedicate a room in the library to Virginia is a natural one, said Robert Hoekstra, a member of the library board and the Chippewa Falls City Council. Hoekstra has served on the council two times prior to his current one, including a stint during Virginia’s tenure as mayor.
“She had a real heart for Chippewa Falls, and I’m sure she still does,” Hoekstra said. “We had an excellent council at the time, and I believe we got a lot accomplished.”
One such accomplishment, Hoekstra mentioned, was working with the county to get it to increase its funding for the library. Virginia also served the library as president of its board.
And her love of libraries has extended into her Bloomington apartment, where Virginia said she has photos from the library and has served as a friend of multiple libraries.
Past her passion for reading and a local library, another accomplishment Virginia sees during her mayor stint is helping deny building of a supermax prison in Chippewa Falls. She was able to work out a compromise, which brought the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment facility to 2909 E. Park Ave.
“The people didn’t want it, so we turned that down,” Virginia said of the proposed maximum security prison. “As mayor you had to listen to all your citizens and decide what was best for your community.”
Viriginia said she always wanted to give people a chance to come into her office and talk, even if that meant they were complaining, so long as they didn’t swear. In her office she had a target from her shooting practice to serve as a reminder for that rule.
And sometimes listening to her community meant doing what they didn’t want. This came to fruition when Virginia and the council voted to put chlorine in Chippewa Falls’ historically pure water supply.
“People like our pure water. But it wasn’t pure anymore, and it was hard to convince people,” Virginia said. “And it’s hard to make a decision like that when people are used to having pure water, and then all the sudden we don’t anymore.”
Meanwhile, her husband, Robert, was always supportive, Virginia said — even when the criticism about her mayor’s job was aimed at him.
“He supported me in my mayor’s job. He got a lot of flak from people,” Virginia said. “He took it well. He didn’t get upset by people talking to him. He was a good listener too.”
Since retiring from her mayor’s position, Virginia has been traveling and soaking up some family time. Her travels include China, Japan, Kenya, Morocco, Germany, Italy, France and Norway.
Virginia moved to Bloomington about eight years ago to be closer to family and her grandchildren, but even after moving out of Chippewa Falls, Dick said his mother still has pride in the area.
“It was hard for her to move here, but she gets to see her grandkids,” Dick said.
Always thankful to the community she served, Virginia is ready for the return trip to Chippewa Falls.
“I think it was a wonderful city,” Virginia said. ‘And I thank them for all the support.”
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, four candidates have filed to run for two open seats on the Chippewa Falls Area United School District school board in April’s election.
Incumbent Pat Allen, current school board treasurer, will run again. Staish Buchner, who worked for the Chippewa Falls school district as a principal and administrator for many years before serving on the school board, has filed non-candidacy papers and will not run in 2018.
Buchner and Allen were first elected in 2012. Both ran again and won, with no opposition, in 2015.
Allen will be joined on the ballot by three other challengers. Sharon McIlquham, Steven J. Olson and Ross Spitz have all filed candidacy paperwork with the administration before the 5 p.m. deadline Tuesday.
Spitz was unsuccessful in running for a school board seat in April 2017, in an election won by incumbents Pete Lehmann and Amy Mason. McIlquham was one of nine people applying in 2015 for a vacant school board that was filled by Kathy Strecker.
The school board race—not to mention a referendum costing up to $65 million that would pay for a new Stillson Elementary—will be on a crowded April 2018 ballot. The school board has yet to finalize the wording of the referendum, and is expected to vote on the final draft at a January board meeting.
The spring 2018 election will be held Tuesday, April 3. If needed, a primary will be held Tuesday, Feb. 20.
The city of Chippewa Falls is considering a land exchange deal involving several parcels at the intersection of Cashman and Olson Drives, an area near Highway 178 and the Lake Wissota Business Park.
The deal could result in expanded facilities for two companies: Allied Dies, a die manufacturing and design company with a 25,000-square-foot facility on 800 Cashman Drive, and Premium Waters, Inc., a water bottling plant located next door that produces Chippewa Springs bottled water, among other brands.
The city of Chippewa Falls owns several parcels behind Allied Dies’ facility, according to city documents. Allied Dies is interested in doubling the size of its existing building, and has proposed swapping one of its unused parcels with one owned by the city. Premium Waters has indicated interest in then buying that swapped parcel—as well as two others—from the city. The land Premium Waters is interested in purchasing totals 6.7 acres.
Premium Waters could then build a 100,000-plus square foot addition to its existing building. City documents suggest more “truck and trail parking” would also be created at the site.
“Premium Waters ... is pretty tight on the properties they have. They have a lot of truck traffic,” City Planner Jayson Smith told the Chippewa Falls City Council at a Tuesday meeting.
Both companies and the city could benefit from the proposal, Smith said.
Allied Dies has plans to expand by late 2018 or early 2019, said the company’s president Brian Pitsch. The company hopes to double its facility size to 50,000 square feet.
As for its next-door neighbor? “We’re very interested,” said Premium Waters plant manager Bill Mercer. “This chunk of land gives us two options. We could store additional (product) ... and it gives us plenty of room to add an additional production line if we need it ... It’s a good deal for us.”
“I’ve had people look at this (land) a couple times,” Smith said, referring to the open building sites. “I’ve always felt strongly (we) want to work with our local industries ... to take care of them, because they’re the ones creating the jobs.”
The project is in the conceptual stage, according to Smith; price and other details will be discussed at a later date.
Premium Waters representatives are expected to discuss the proposal in more detail in late January in Chippewa Falls.
In other city council news, Mayor Greg Hoffman presented retiring city planner Jayson Smith with a key to the city Tuesday and praised Smith’s years of service and dedication to Chippewa Falls. Smith will retire from his post at City Hall on Monday, Jan. 8.