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Iran’s top Sunni cleric calls for a referendum amid anti-regime protests

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Iran’s top Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid, called for a referendum on Friday to determine what Iranians want, as anti-regime protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini continued.

“Hold a referendum with international observers. Officials, listen to the cry of the people,” Abdolhamid said in a Friday prayers sermon in the city of Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province.

Iranian authorities cannot put an end to the protests by killing and imprisoning protesters, he said.

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“People have been (protesting) in the streets for 50 days now; you cannot push them back by killing and imprisoning them, because they have seen blood and they have had their own killed,” said Abdolhamid.

“Hold a referendum and see what the people of Iran want, and what kind of change they are happy with,” he said.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in Sistan-Baluchestan on Friday, activists said. The province has seen protests after Friday prayers in the past few weeks which have been met with a violent crackdown from authorities.

Security forces killed at least 66 people, including children, and injured hundreds of others in a crackdown after Friday prayers in Zahedan on September 30, according to Amnesty International.

It was the deadliest incident in the unrest that erupted on September 16 after the death in custody of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman detained by Tehran’s morality police for allegedly not complying with the regime’s strict hijab rules.

Tehran has blamed the violence in Sistan-Baluchestan on armed militants. Iran’s military has in the past clashed with Sunni militants in Sistan-Baluchestan, which is mostly populated by Sunni ethnic Baluchis, a minority in predominantly Shia Iran.

Baluchi activists have long complained of ethnic and religious discrimination and accuse the regime of deliberately neglecting their region, one of Iran’s poorest according to official figures.

Abdolhamid, a highly regarded figure among Iran’s Sunnis, said last month that officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, were “responsible before God” for the September 30 killings.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a statement in response to Abdolhamid, warning: “Mr. Abdolhamid, encouraging and agitating youths against the sacred Islamic Republic of Iran may cost you dearly! This is the last warning!”

Abdolhamid has not backed off despite the warning, and his latest call for a referendum will likely anger authorities.

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