Shopkeepers and factory workers reportedly went on strike in Iran on Saturday, as national women-led protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini entered their sixth week and solidarity rallies were held around the world.
The death of Amini, 22, after her arrest for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women, has fueled the biggest protests seen in the Islamic Republic in years.
Young women have led the charge, removing headscarves, chanting anti-government slogans and confronting security forces, despite a crackdown that human rights groups say has killed at least 122 people.
Activists called for new demonstrations as Iran’s work week began on Saturday, but it was difficult to gauge turnout due to restrictions on internet access.
“On Saturday… we will be together for freedom,” activist Atena Daemi said in a Twitter post that showed an image of a bareheaded woman raising her fist.
Iran’s deputy interior minister, Majid Mirahmadi, told state media that the protests were in their “last days.”
“There are several concentrations in some universities, which are decreasing every day, and the riots are in their last days,” he said.
Social media channel 1500tasvir told AFP that there were “strikes in a couple of cities, including Sanandaj, Bukan and Saqez”, adding that it was difficult to see evidence of them online because “the internet connection is too slow”.
Saqez, in the western province of Kurdistan, is Amini’s hometown, where anger erupted at his funeral last month, helping spark the protest movement.
Verified images spread on social media showed dozens of students waving Iranian flags and chanting outside one of Iran’s largest campuses, Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.
Some female students among them did not wear the obligatory headscarf.
In northwestern Iran, dozens of students clapped and chanted during a protest at the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, verified footage showed.
Iran has accused its archenemy the United States of trying to use the protests to extract concessions in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.
“The Americans continue to exchange messages with us, but they are trying to fan the flames of what has been happening inside Iran in recent days,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.
Organizers of a mass rally in Berlin in solidarity with Iranian protesters called on “democratic governments… to stop negotiating with the criminal state called the Islamic Republic.”
In a statement, the Iranians for Justice and Human Rights group also called for the expulsion of Iran’s ambassadors.
“We are not asking them to interfere in Iran, wage war or sanction the people of Iran,” he said. “We want it to impose targeted sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s leaders, operatives, oligarchs and lobbyists.”
The Berlin rally, which police said drew more than 80,000 people, was one of several demonstrations around the world, including in Australia and Japan.
Organizers said the Iranians had traveled from the United States, Canada and across the EU.
“From Zahedan to Tehran, I sacrifice my life for Iran,” human rights activist Fariba Balouch said after giving a speech at the Berlin meeting, referring to Iranian cities swept by protests. The crowd responded with “Death to Khamenei,” referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Anti-government activists said the Berlin march was the largest demonstration against the Islamic Republic by Iranians abroad.
A teachers’ union in Iran has called for a nationwide strike on Sunday and Monday over a crackdown that human rights group Amnesty International says has cost the lives of at least 23 children.
The Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Unions said the “sit-in” would be in response to “systematic oppression” by security forces in schools.
Activists have also accused authorities of a campaign of mass arrests and travel bans to quell the protests, with athletes, celebrities and journalists caught up in the raid.
Overnight an Iranian climber, who would have been placed under house arrest for competing abroad last weekend without a veil, she thanked her followers on Instagram.
Elnaz Rekabi, 33, only wore a headband at an event at the Asian Championships in Seoul, in what many saw as a gesture of solidarity with Amini’s protests.
“I sincerely thank everyone who came to the airport to welcome me, I love you,” Rekabi said in her first comments on social media since returning to a hero’s welcome on Wednesday.
The BBC and London-based Iran International television said on Friday that Rekabi had been placed under house arrest. According to reports, his phone had been seized before he flew home.
On Friday, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran called on the International Sport Climbing Federation to do more to protect Rekabi and all Iranian athletes.
Reuters contributed to this report