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Protests have erupted in Iran over schoolgirls falling ill

DUBAI, March 4 (Reuters) – Concerned parents in Iran’s capital Tehran and other cities on Saturday protested a wave of suspected poisoning attacks involving schoolgirls at dozens of schools, according to Iranian news agencies and social media videos.

So far unexplained illnesses have struck hundreds of schoolgirls in recent months. Iranian officials say the girls may have been poisoned and blame Tehran’s enemies.

The country’s health minister said the girls were victims of “mild poisoning” attacks and some politicians said they may have been targeted by hardline Islamist groups opposed to girls’ education.

Iran’s interior minister said on Saturday that investigators had examined “suspicious samples”.

“During the field investigations, suspicious samples have been found, which will be analyzed to find out the causes of the students’ illness and the results will be published soon,” Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said in a statement. A report issued by the official news agency IRNA.

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The disease affected more than 30 schools in at least 10 of Iran’s 31 provinces on Saturday. Videos posted on social media showed parents gathering at schools to take their children home, and some students being taken to hospitals by ambulance or buses.

Parents gathered outside the Education Ministry building in western Tehran on Saturday to protest the illnesses turned into an anti-government demonstration, according to video verified by Reuters.

“Basij, guards, you are our Daesh,” protesters chanted, comparing the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces to the Islamic State group.

According to unverified videos, similar protests were held in two other areas in Tehran and other cities, including Isfahan and Rasht.

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The schoolgirl’s illness comes at a critical time for Iran’s clerical rulers, who have faced months of anti-government protests sparked by the death of a young Iranian girl in the custody of morality police enforcing strict dress codes.

Social media posts in recent days have shown photos and videos of girls sick, nauseous or suffering from heart palpitations. Others complained of headaches. Reuters could not verify the posts.

The United Nations human rights office in Geneva called for an open investigation into the suspected attacks on Friday and countries including Germany and the United States expressed concern.

Iran rejected what it considered foreign interference and “emergency reactions” and said on Friday it was investigating the causes of the incidents.

“One of the immediate priorities of the Iranian government is to provide documented information to quickly pursue this issue, address the families’ concerns, and hold the perpetrators and the causes accountable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Khanani told state media.

Schoolgirls were active in the anti-government protests that began in September. They have removed their mandatory veils in classrooms, torn down pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and called for his death.

Reporting by Dubai Newsroom Editing by Francis Kerry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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