Protests have spread across Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini after the young woman was arrested by the morality police for wearing her headscarf 'improperly'. The official death toll has risen from nine to seventeen, although rights group believe over 30 civilians have been killed.
Public anger has flared since Iranian authorities on Friday announced the death of 22-year-old Amini, who had been held for allegedly wearing a hijab headscarf in an "improper" way.
Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish name is Jhina, had suffered a fatal blow to the head, a claim denied by officials in the Islamic republic who said they had launched an investigation.
Some women demonstrators have defiantly taken off their hijabs and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair, video footage spread virally on social media has shown.
17 people are now reported to have been killed during protests. Among those reported dead is a 16-year-old boy, shot when security forces opened fire on protesters.
The unrest has spread to more than 20 major cities, including the capital Tehran.
Police have used tear gas and made arrests in efforts to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people.
Demonstrators hurled stones at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and garbage bins, and chanted anti-government slogans, the official IRNA news agency said.
In another despatch, Irna reported that Kazem Gharibabadi, Secretary of Iran's Human Rights Headquarters met with the Danish Ambassador in Iran, Jesper Vahr, and criticised the EU Foreign Service statement on the circumstances of Amini's death.
Gharibabadi said that, following the "sorrowful event" involving "the Iranian girl," inspection teams started "working on various aspects of the event."
Rights group Article 19 said it was "deeply concerned by reports of the unlawful use of force by Iranian police and security forces," including the firing of live ammunition.
Overnight rallies were held in Tehran and other cities including Mashhad in the northeast, Tabriz in the northwest, Rasht in the north, Isfahan in the centre and Shiraz in the south, IRNA reported.
"Death to the dictator" and "Woman, life, freedom", protesters could be heard shouting in video footage that spread beyond Iran, despite online restrictions reported by internet access monitor Netblocks.
In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke publicly on Wednesday, but without mentioning the spreading unrest.
Iran's president Brahim Raisi accused the West of hypocrisy in its criticism of Tehran.
President Raisi struck a defiant note on a visit to the United Nations, with demonstrators also trailing him on the streets of New York and dissidents filing a human rights lawsuit against hardline cleric Khamenei.
Ismail Zarei Koosha, the governor of Kurdistan province, where Amini lived and where the protests started, said on Tuesday that three people had been killed during protests.
He insisted they were "killed suspiciously" as part of "a plot by the enemy", Fars news agency reported.
The Norway-based Kurdish human rights group Hengaw - which had first reported those three deaths - said Wednesday that two more protesters had been killed overnight.
The two, aged 16 and 23, died in the towns of Piranshahr, where there were fierce clashes, and Urmia, both in West Azerbaijan province, Hengaw said.
Another male protester who was wounded in Divandareh on 17 September died from his injuries in hospital, the rights group said.
Video spread online showing security forces opening fire on protesters in the southern city of Shiraz, where disturbances continued into the early hours of the morning.
Amini's death and Iran's response to the protests have sparked condemnation from the United Nations, United States, France and other countries.
The protests are among the most serious in Iran since November 2019 unrest over fuel price rises.
Foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani on Tuesday condemned what he called "foreign interventionist positions".