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Anti-Government Protests Erupt Across Iran; Turning The Page On 2017. Aired: 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2017 - 10:00   ET


ROBYN KRIEL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Robyn Kriel in Atlanta. We begin with briefing you on

something you'll have heard a lot about the demonstrations in Iran. You won't have heard the full story, though. Not yet. So here it is.

So far, we know that two people have been killed, dozens more rounded up and held by police. And it's all from this -- a number of protests

erupting in about nine cities across a large spread of the north for three straight days.

But as wide as they are, they're not necessarily that's deep. There's no one visibly leading them, they just seem to have sprung up. Exact numbers

are hard to come by. But we're talking about numbers in the thousands here in a country that is some 80 million call home.

So just what is it all about? Like in many other countries, one thing really: money. Despite holding some of the world's largest oil and gas

deposits, Iran's economy is pretty flat. A lot of everyday Iranians especially those in the smaller cities are struggling to get by, and many

young people can't land good jobs,

Topping that of, corruption is almost everywhere you look from top to bottom. A daily reality that costs them money. So those are the reasons.

Let's now take a listen to the streets.


KRIEL: "Death to the dictator," you're hearing. We cannot verify this video, but these scenes, heralded by many as an unprecedented attack on the

Supreme Leader, the ultimate power in Iranian politics aren't really.

Firstly, it's widely understood in Iran as an attack on the whole system, not only the man. People want change, but not necessarily destruction.

And while attacking the Ayatollah is rare, this is far from the first time that it's happened.

For some context, let's bring in at CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Now, Fred has spent a lot of time in Iran, reporting for us and is now in Moscow, which

is a close ally of Tehran. Fred, two kill: dozens detained. Give us the latest you're hearing.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems as though, the latest that we're hearing Robyn is that it is still very

tense on the streets of Tehran and in other places, as well, with a lot of secure forces that have been deployed.

Now, there hasn't been any school today on the face of it, so the authorities there are saying that's because of a very high smog levels.

But there are some obviously, who believe that that might also be to sort of keep people off the streets and calm the situation down somewhat.

This is of course day four into these protests, and I think that you're absolutely right, it is something that is pretty much unprecedented in Iran

over the past couple of years. You had those big protests in 2009. But the ones that we're seeing now are very different. And I think that's for

two reasons.

Each and every one of these protests that we're seeing now is smaller than the ones that we saw in 2009. But they are far more widespread throughout

the country.

So that does seem to indicate that there is some discontent not just among the population in places like Tehran, but in smaller towns and villages as


The other big thing, this is probably even more important is that they don't seem to be directed against one or the other political faction in

Iran. It's not the hardliners versus the moderates. It seems to be directed at the entire power structure.

There are some people who are chanting against Iran's Supreme Leader, which is almost unheard of, and taking down posters. There's others who are

chanting against President Hassan Rouhani.

So it seems as though the entire power structure in Iran has a big problem on its hands, and there are some ministers who have come out and said,

"Look, we want to fight against inflation, especially we want to address some of these." But then there's also others who are coming down and

saying they're going to clamp down hard if there are any protests to take place.

And of course, it is dark now in Tehran, and that's usually around the time that new protests tend to kick off -- Robyn.

KRIEL: Fred, you reported from Iran dozens of times, do these protests sparked by poor economy and allegations of corruption surprise you? Give

us a slice of life of what it's like on the ground there?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think they are -- they are, they are quite surprising in the fact that they are happening in so many places. What's not surprising

is that there are -- is widespread discontent.

And you know, one of the things that you were saying is that a lot of people are struggling to get by. A lot of people feel that at the money

that they have is worth a lot less than it was before.

You've seen some price spikes in food, and also pretty high inflation as well.

[10:05:07] PLEITGEN: But I think that there's one element that's even more important, probably then all of this, and that's the element that you're

talking about a population that by and large, is very young, and very well educated.

So for many of these people, yes, it's about getting by. But for many of them, it's also about being able to fulfill their entire potential. The

fact that this country has a lot of engineers, this country has a lot of mathematicians, this country has a lot of people who are trying to start

startups, and they just don't see the economic framework.

And also, quite frankly, the ability to take some of this into the international sphere. They want more foreign direct investment. They want

technology transfer, they want to be able to achieve what they feel that they can achieve, and that's something it seems as though at least for some

of the folks in Iran, they don't think that the current power structure is providing that to them.

Hassan Rouhani has said that's one of the things that he wanted to do. If you look at his economic plan on the face of it, it does provide for

companies who want to invest in Iran to also bring technology transfer to Iran as well. But that is going very, very slowly. And there are some who

say after the nuclear agreement between Iran and many other countries that Hassan Rouhani somewhat oversold, maybe the benefits that people were going

to reap from it -- Robyn.

KRIEL: All right, thank you so much. That was CNN's Fred Pleitgen live from Moscow. We do appreciate it.

Well, as it stands, U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted four times about the protests in Iran. Here is his most recent tweets just a few

hours ago. He said, "Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth has been stolen and squandered on

terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is working very closely for human rights violations."

It comes a day after Iran's foreign Ministry claimed that the U.S. President was complicit in human rights violations in the Palestinian

territories, Yemen and Bahrain on its website. Its spokesman also pushed back against U.S. comments and said that the Trump administration was the

main source of ill will towards Iran.

As we've mentioned, one of the propellers of these protests is the economy. The total average household income in Iran urban areas is less than

$1,000.00 a month. Now that number is from the country's central bank.

Meanwhile, youth unemployment is nearly 27 percent. That's according to the World Bank. Much of the economy is run centrally by the government.

It owns hundreds of companies and indirectly controls a lot more.

Let's dig a little deeper for you now Adnan Tabatabai by joins me now live from Dusseldorf via Skype. He is a political analyst on Iran affairs.

Adnan, thank you so much. Give us a sense of what exactly is fueling this.

ADNAN TABATABAI, COFOUNDER AND CEO, CARPO: I assume that this has a lot to do with accumulated grievances with regards to socioeconomic questions.

You already mentioned some economic fears. There is discontent among people. And there are political rivals of this government -- of the

government of Hassan Rouhani -- who have been provoking some of this to a certain extent.

Let's not forget that the government has just handed in its budget for the next Iranian year. So this is a time during which the economy of the

country is discussed and this has trickled down on the social level, obviously.

KRIEL: What's different would you say Adnan to 2009? Can you compare the two?

TABATABAI: I mean 2009, it was very obvious that there was an election, there was an election that sparked the protests. It was about political

participation. It was about being recognized as political subjects.

Whereas this time, it has much more to do with economic grievances. You mentioned a couple of those already. So this has much more to do with

economic discontent that can however, at the same time also be addressed through just doing that, through promising to convincingly develop and

improve the living conditions of people. And I think this would be the only thing that could calm down these protests.

KRIEL: While the discontent with the economy seems to be the common thread binding all of this together, would you say that different factions are

still using these protests to score points?

TABATABAI: I assume -- I mean, it's very natural to assume that the opponents of the government, of Rouhani's administration are trying to

capitalize on this, while at the same time, they are obviously also concerned that these protests can, you know, get out of control and be

directed at the political system in its entirety.

We are seeing some slogans here and there. I wouldn't read too much into them. But yet again, I mean, the anger of people can obviously elevate to

other things even if it has just started with economics.

KRIEL: We've already touched on corruption in Iran, but exactly, how bad is it? Well, Transparency International ranks the country at 131 out of

176, in terms of how corrupt the government is to be perceived, putting it at the top 74th percentile globally.

But Adnan, is this a solvable problem for the government? Can they salvage anything at this stage?

[10:10:25] TABATABAI: I think the problem in Iran has always been that anti-corruption measures were only adopted selectively, targeted against

political opponents.

It was never targeted in its entirety or comprehensively, which is why corruption is still a problem in the country. But the Rouhani

administration has been trying to address these issues. But again, it was quite selective.

So unless this becomes or this turns into a comprehensive measure adopted by any administration, this problem will continue to exist.

KRIEL: Reports indicate, Adnan that the social messaging applications Telegram and Instagram, which so many protesters were using to communicate

between each other and the outside world are either blocked out completely or slowed down significantly. Can you give us a sense of why these

messaging applications are significant and really a lifeline for some of these protesters?

TABATABAI: Yes, I've also been hearing from people who can be trusted that both social media channels -- Telegram and Instagram -- have been blocked

right now. But it has also been said by officials that this is a temporary block.

Unfortunately, we have to say that while social media have their blessing, because information can be disseminated in more free manner, there is also

the spread of fake news -- to use that word -- and of dangerous content, which has led to Telegram for example, the CEO of Telegram shutting down

one of the most popular news sites or news channels on Telegram.

So the misuse of the social media accounts or social media outlets cannot be dismissed, while at the same time, the government is obviously trying to

slow down the connectivity of people.

KRIEL: Always a danger when there is a free press vacuum. Thank you so much, Adnan Tabatabai, we do appreciate your time live for us from

Dusseldorf, Germany.

Well, still ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD, more on the story. Defiance, and disillusionment as Iran witnesses its biggest protests in almost a decade.

We are going to ask where it might be headed. Stay with us for expert analysis in just a moment.

Plus, the countdown to 2018 is underway, one time zone at a time. A look at how cities around the world are celebrating the arrival of a New Year

after this break.


[10:15:33] KRIEL: Welcome back. You're watching a CNN and this is CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Robyn Kriel.

Our top story at this hour in Iran, rising tensions are about to roll into the New Year in the form of the country's worst protests in years.

This is just a glimpse of some of the anger playing out on the streets. Demonstrators say they're fed up with rising food and gas prices, high

unemployment and corruption.

At least two people have been killed, and Iran's President is expected to address the country in the coming hours. We also want to point out that

some of the remarkable video being shared on social media, you're looking at pictures of a woman who's taken off her headscarf and is waving it in

the air.

CNN cannot independently verify the clip. The fact it's being shared at all, though, is important. But now the government is quote "restricting"

the Telegram and Instagram messaging applications that are distributing those videos.

Mood seems at total odds to the optimism that follow the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. So what's changed since then and how is this new wave of

discontent being viewed by the international community?

Let's speak now to Vali Nasr who is the Dean at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is live for us in

Washington, D.C. Vali, thank you for your time. Firstly, just how significant are these protests in your view?

VALI NASR, DEAN, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: I think they are significant largely because protest against

any government at any time can become something much larger and a bigger political challenge.

But also because the international community is watching and the Trump administration has thrown a gauntlet again against the Iranian government,

and the sense of embarrassment that a regime faces when its own population criticize it makes it much more significant.

KRIEL: Would sanctions being -- with the possibility of sanctions being dropped in light of the nuclear deal if it was going to go through, do you

believe that Rouhani banked too much on this and that the people were expecting perhaps more to materialize economically?

NASR: I think so. I think that what is at play here is that there is enormous amount of economic frustration in Iran.

President Rouhani had promised that his reforms internally would bring about economic growth that hasn't been seen. And he also promised that the

nuclear deal would open up the economy and bring prosperity and people are not seeing that either.

His conservative critics would like to blame him personally, for the way he negotiated the deal and the way that he has managed the economy for the

frustration. But there's a segment of the Iranian public that blames not Rouhani, but the regime itself and the fact that it is isolated

internationally, and he can do more to play a positive role in the international community and end the isolation.

So what we're seeing at play in Iran is that both of these arguments are competing. There are those who want to blame just President Rouhani, and

there are those who want to blame the entire setup in Iran.

But what we really are seeing is economic factors, not political factors. We had -- Iran had a very successful election last year with high

participation and that also helped generate expectations that are not being realized.

KRIEL: And Vali, in addition to the U.S. President and Vice President speaking out against those protests, we are now hearing from Hillary

Clinton, Paul Ryan, and at least for U.S. senators who have tweeted in support of Iran's protest.

One of them is John McCain. Let's take a look at what he said. He said, "For too long, the Iranian people have been oppressed by their government

which cares more about sowing instability abroad than its own citizens. The US stands with the brave protesters who yearn for freedom, peace and an

end to corruption in the Iran."

Vali, do you think that support of this kind will work in favor of the protesters or against them?

NASR: Well, it would not help them largely because the United States is not in a position to actually help them. In other words, it cannot play a

role on the streets. It has no connection with the Iranian government to call somebody in Tehran and ask them for restraint.

[10:20:01] NASR: So all they will do in a sense is give the government and the security forces the argument that these protests are not genuine, they

are being led by outsiders, and that they must be bad for Iran, if they are being supported by President Trump, who has shown that he has no goodwill

towards the country, the nuclear deal, he has been denying Iranians visas.

It's the same kind of arguments we've seen play out in Russia, where internal dissent is blamed on foreign agents, and particularly President

Trump, whose speech at the United Nations offended average Iranians in many ways. His support for the protest actually tarnishes their broader


KRIEL: I want to remind our viewers very quickly about some of the factors behind these protests, the outbreak reflect growing discontent over a surge

in prices in basic food supplies such as eggs and poultry, frustration after report of widespread corruption. For some, it is anger over the

costly involvement in regional conflicts such as in Syria and Iraq.

And finally, disappointment that the Iran nuclear deal championed by the Rouhani government has yet to bring about the benefits that the government

said it would bring even after some major sanctions were indeed lifted.

Now on those points, Vali, what room for maneuver do you believe does Rouhani have now? Practically speaking, what can the government do to ease

the situation for its ordinary citizens?

NASR: Well, he can actually make promises that could send at least a portion of the protesters home. And then his government may have to find

ways very quickly to say let's bring down the price of eggs or price of gas and reduce tensions.

But I think what these protests have really revealed to Iran's political leader leadership is that economic frustrations in Iran are real, and they

have to do something drastic to ease economic tensions in Iran, because even if they're successful at quelling this protest, there is going to be

another one in three months and another one three months after that, and those might be bigger and more problematic.

So they have to treat this as a warning shot. They can deal with it short run, but they have to come up with a longer run plan.

KRIEL: Hopefully as peacefully as possible. Thank you so much, Vali Nasr, we do appreciate your time live for us from Washington.

With 2018 rolling in around the world, it's time to take stock of the year that was.

The UN Secretary General has just issued a red alert. That's all after the year in which he says the world has gone in reverse with deepening

conflicts, rising anxieties about nuclear war.

CNN's Phil Black takes us through the turbulent 2017.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Terrorism, conflict, natural disasters -- 2017 was a turbulent year dominated by

politics, it saw a U.S. President unlike any we've seen before.




BLACK (voice over): Donald Trump became known for his controversies.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This controversial travel ban --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Blaming both sides for the violence in Charlottesville.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Another controversial tweet.


BLACK (voice over): Name calling --


TRUMP: Rocketman.

They call her Pocahontas.


BLACK (voice over): And internal battles.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sean Spicer is stepping down --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is out.


BLACK (voice over): But through all the chaos, he reshaped the White House and the world's perception of America.

Across the Pacific, North Korea stepped up its rhetoric and its nuclear missile testing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea claims it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. It claims it tested a hydrogen bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is begging for war.


BLACK (voice over): In Iraq and Syria, ISIS was driven from key cities and villages.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Mosul finally liberated from ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raqqa fully liberated.


BLACK (voice over): And just slew of terror attacks hit at the heart of cities around the world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hiding upstairs and there's just gunshots going everywhere.


BLACK (voice over): The U.K. suffered the highest number of attacks since the IRA bombings in 1992 and New York City experienced its deadliest terror

event since 9/11.

Myanmar and Yemen saw some of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in decades.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yemen is on the brink of collapse.


BLACK (voice over): Sarin gas was used against the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.


TRUMP: That crosses many, many lines beyond the red line.


BLACK (voice over): America reacted launching its first military strike against the Syrian regime since the Civil War began.

Back at home, the U.S. suffered some of the deadliest mass shootings in its modern history.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was panicking, of course. Girls screaming. People fainting on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just opens the door and we just keep hearing gunshots.


Black (voice over): Across the globe, separatists groups pushed to independence. New leaders were elected.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: France's youngest President --


BLACK (voice over): Some gained more power than ever.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Seismic shift in Turkish politics --


BLACK (voice over): And others exited after ruling for decades.

2017 also experienced a mind bending litany of natural disasters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my neighborhood in flames.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so panicked.


[10:25:17] BLACK (voice over): An urban fire raged through a London building bringing death and destruction.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can hear people screaming, "Help me. My baby, help me."


BLACK (voice over): Yet, amidst the chaos, people spoke up against sexual harassment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women coming out in their millions with #MeToo.


BLACK (voice over): A CNN report exposed slave auctions in Libya, sparking outrage around the world and prompting investigations.

Away from the darkness, there was some light. Astronomers found new planets. Australia voted yes to same sex marriage.

An epic mix up at the Oscars went viral.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: "La La Land" was announced as the Best Picture of Winner, but it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Moonlight" was the actual winner.


BLACK (voice over): A royal wedding was confirmed.


MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: He is so sweet and natural and romantic.


BLACK (voice over): And America got to see its first nationwide solar eclipse in 99 years.


KRIEL: In our final parting shots of 2017, we're ushering in a brand new year, 2018 has already arrived in parts of Asia and the Pacific.

Here in Seoul, South Korea people celebrated in grand style and in a few short minutes, North Korea will do the same.

And Sydney hosted its annual fireworks spectacular as midnight struck. It takes a total of 26 hours for the whole world to enter in the New Year. So

be sure to keep it right here on CNN throughout the day where we will be bringing you festivities from around the globe as people ring in 2018.

Well, I'm Robyn Kriel. That was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you so much for watching.