Thousands of demonstrators poured on to the streets in cities across Iran on Friday in the biggest protests since the pro-democracy unrest of 2009, as anger over the economy came to a head. Hundreds of anti-regime protesters in the western city of Kermanshah, chanting “bread, jobs, freedom”, clashed with riot police. “What is free in Iran? Theft, injustice,” shouted protesters in Khorramabad, another western city. Riot police were stationed in the main squares of big cities, according to local media, but protesters ignored official warnings. No arrests or deaths were immediately reported.

The demonstrations were triggered after thousands of working-class people in Mashhad, the second-biggest city, staged a rally on Thursday to protest against rising prices. They blamed the centrist government of President Hassan Rouhani, who was re-elected in a landslide in May and was backed by the educated middle class, for failing to meet his promise to improve the economy and generate jobs.

Those who have staged acts against the government [in Mashhad] should know they will also suffer from any consequences . . . Those who started this will not be the ones who can put an end to it Es’haq Jahangiri, Iran’s first vice-president The crowds chanted “Death to Rouhani” and “Forget about Syria; Think of us” in a rare public criticism of a sitting president and in protest at the financial cost of Iran’s policies in the Middle East.