Iran protests: Supreme leader blames "enemies" for meddling
Breaking his silence over nationwide protests that included calls for him to be ousted, Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the demonstrations on "enemies of Iran", saying they were meddling in its internal affairs.
The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the demonstrations – the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election – came after a bloody night that saw protesters try to storm a police station and the first deaths among its security forces. The unrest has killed at least 21 people in the past six days.
The protests began on 28 December in Mashhad over the weak economy and a jump in food prices. They have since expanded to cities and towns in nearly every province. Hundreds have been arrested, and a prominent judge warned that some could face the death penalty.
Speaking to black-chador-clad women who were relatives of veterans and war dead, the 78-year-old Khamenei warned of an enemy "waiting for an opportunity, for a crack through which it can infiltrate."
"Look at the recent days' incidents," he said. "All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilised various means, including money, weapons, politics and (the) intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution."
Khamenei avoided identifying any foreign countries, although he promised to elaborate in the coming days. Undoubtedly high on his list is the US, where President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for the protests for several days.
On Tuesday, he wrote that "the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime."
"All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their 'pockets'," Trump wrote, apparently referring to the nuclear deal reached under his predecessor. "The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!"
It is unclear what effect Trump's tweets are having on the protests. Iran's state TV reported on his tweets in its news broadcasts, and some people have shared them online, but many in Iran distrust him because he has refused to re-certify the 2015 nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting US visas.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi urged Trump to stop tweeting and focus on his own country's problems.
"It is better for him to try to address the US's internal issues like the murder of scores killed on a daily basis in the United States during armed clashes and shootings, as well as millions of the homeless and hungry people in the country," Ghasemi said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
The US government called for the UN Security Council and UN Human Rights Council to hold emergency meetings on Iran, with the US ambassador to the United Nations saying the world body "must speak" on the issue.
"Nowhere is the urgency of peace, security and freedom being tested more than in Iran," US Ambassador Nikki Haley said, adding that US officials "applaud the tremendous courage of the Iranian people."
The protests began over the economy, which has improved since the nuclear deal that saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars' worth of Western aircraft.
That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 per cent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 per cent, which the government has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have sparked the protests.
Analysts suggest the protests starting in Mashhad mean conservatives pushed them forward as a way to challenge Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric whose administration struck the nuclear deal. The apparently leaderless protests, fanned in part by a messaging app called Telegram, then grew beyond their control to include violent confrontations, analysts say.
The government has since shut down access to Telegram and the photo-sharing app Instagram, which now join Facebook and Twitter in being banned. (AP)
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