DUBAI (Reuters) – Concerned parents protested in Tehran and other cities on Saturday against a wave of poisoned attacks on schoolgirls in dozens of schools, Iranian news agencies and videos on social media reported.
Hundreds of schoolgirls have been affected by so far unexplained illnesses in recent months. Iranian officials believe the girls may have been poisoned and have blamed it on Tehran’s enemies.
The country’s health minister said the girls had been subjected to “mild poison” attacks and some politicians suggested the girls could have been targeted by hardline Islamist groups opposed to girls’ education.
Iran’s interior minister said on Saturday that investigators had found “suspicious samples” that were being studied.
“In field studies, suspicious samples were found, which are being investigated … to identify the causes of the students’ illness, and the results will be published as soon as possible,” Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fadli said. Statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.
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The disease infected more than 30 schools in at least 10 of Iran’s 31 provinces on Saturday. Videos posted on social media showed parents gathering in schools to take their children home, while some students were taken to hospitals by ambulances or buses.
A parents’ gathering outside the Ministry of Education building in western Tehran on Saturday to protest against illnesses has morphed into an anti-government demonstration, according to video footage verified by Reuters.
The demonstrators chanted “Basij, O guards, O ISIS” and likened the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces to the Islamic State.
Similar protests took place in two other districts of Tehran and other cities including Isfahan and Rasht, according to unverified videos.
The outbreak of the disease in schoolgirls 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 woman in the custody of the morality police who enforce a strict dress code.
Posts on social media in recent days have shown photos and videos of girls who have become ill, feel sick or have heart palpitations. Others complained of headaches. Reuters could not verify the posts.
The United Nations human rights office in Geneva called on Friday for a transparent investigation into the suspected attacks, and countries including Germany and the United States expressed concern.
Iran has rejected what it sees as foreign interference and “hasty reactions” and said on Friday it was investigating the causes of the accident.
“It is an urgent priority for the Iranian government to follow up on this case as soon as possible and provide documented information to resolve the concerns of the families and hold the perpetrators and the causes accountable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told state media.
Schoolgirls have been active in the anti-government protests that began in September. They have taken off mandatory veils in classrooms, tore up pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and called for his death.
Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry
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