A London-based newspaper is reporting that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been arrested by authorities for allegedly inciting unrest against the government.
Citing “reliable sources in Tehran,” Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported on Saturday that Ahmadinejad made an inflammatory comment during a visit to the western city of Bushehr on December 28.
According to a report in The Times of Israel, Ahmadinejad said, “Some of the current leaders live detached from the problems and concerns of the people, and do not know anything about the reality of society.”
He supposedly added that Iran was suffering from “mismanagement” and that the government of President Hassan Rouhani “believes that they own the land and that the people are an ignorant society.”
According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Ahmadinejad’s comments, which came as anti-government protests over the economy were heating up, led to his arrest.
The newspaper said authorities now seek to impose house arrest on the former president.
The Times of Israel could not independently confirm the report.
Iran’s state TV on Saturday showed pro-government rallies in several cities, starting with Amol, in the northern province of Mazandaram, with hundreds of people waving the Iranian flag and chanting slogans against the US and Israel.
State TV described the rally as a “response to rioters and supporters of the riots.” Other pro-government demonstrations were held in Shahin Dezh, in West Azarbaijan province bordering Turkey; the city of Semnan, in the northern Semnan Province; and Shadegan, in the southern Khouzestan Province near Iraq.
The rallies are meant to be a show of force against anti-government protests that broke out in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, on December 28, and have since spread to several other cities and towns. The protests were sparked by a hike in food prices amid soaring unemployment. Some demonstrators have called for the government’s overthrow.
At least 21 people have been killed, and hundreds have been arrested. Large pro-government rallies have been held in response, and officials have blamed the anti-government unrest on foreign meddling.