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    USA show Iran flag without emblem of Islamic republic before World Cup clash

    • Gesture comes amid ongoing protests against Iranian regime
    • USA set to play Iran on Tuesday in their final Group B match

    The USA men’s football team (USMNT) has begun displaying Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic as nationwide protests challenging Tehran’s theocratic government continue.

    The Twitter account of the USMNT on Sunday displayed a banner with the squad’s matches in the group stage, with the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white and red colours. The same could be seen in a post on the team’s Facebook and Instagram accounts laying out the points totals so far in the group.

    The USMNT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the absence of the emblem comes as months-long demonstrations have challenged Iran’s government since the death on 16 September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police.

    The protests have seen at least 450 people killed since they started, as well as over 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group following the demonstrations. Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and alleges without providing evidence that the protests have been fomented by its enemies abroad, including the US.

    Tehran also restricts press access and has detained over 63 reporters and photographers since the demonstrations began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making covering the unrest much more difficult.

    Iran’s mission to the United Nations and its football federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iranian state media had yet to acknowledge the emblem’s absence on the USMNT’s accounts, though comments raged online.

    The Islamic republic emblem, designed in 1980, is four curves with a sword between them. It represents the Islamic saying: “There is no god but God.” It also resembles a tulip or lotus. At the top and the bottom of the flag, there are 22 inscriptions of “God is Great” as well, which honours the date on the Persian calendar when the Islamic Revolution took place.

    The flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup. Apparent pro-government supporters have waved it, shouting at those demonstrating over Amini’s death. Others at matches have waved Iran’s lion and sun flag, an emblem of its former ruler, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. A bigger security presence could be seen during Iran’s last match against Wales. In the capital Tehran, riot police – the same ones cracking down on protests – waved the Iranian flag after the victory against Wales, angering demonstrators. Iran will face the USMNT on Tuesday.

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