Iran’s supreme leader has accused the country’s enemies of stirring days of protests that have claimed at least 22 lives.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was speaking for the first time since people protesting at Iran’s economic troubles clashed with security forces last Thursday.
Nine people, including a child, died overnight in violence in central Iran, state media say.
The protests are the largest since the disputed 2009 presidential election.
They began last Thursday in the city of Mashhad, initially against price rises and corruption, but have since spread amid wider anti-government sentiment.
What have Iran’s leaders said?
In a post on his official website, Iran’s supreme leader was quoted as saying: “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence services to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.”
The dignity, security, and progress of the Iranian nation is owed to the self-sacrifice of the martyrs. What prevents enemies from exerting their atrocities is the spirit of courage, sacrifice, and faith within the nation.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 2, 2018
He said he would address the nation about the recent events “when the time was right”.
- Why are there protests in Iran?
- An unpredictable challenge for Iran
- US warns Iran: The world is watching
Analysts say the supreme leader’s reference to “enemies” is a swipe at Israel, the US and regional rivals Saudi Arabia.
Tasnim news quoted Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, as saying: “Saudis will receive Iran’s unexpected response and they know how serious it can be.”
Musa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, in turn warned that the ringleaders of the protests would face harsh punishment.
President Hassan Rouhani’s words have been more measured. He has called the protests an “opportunity, not a threat”, recognised economic discontent and said people had a right to take the streets. However, he has also vowed to crack down on “lawbreakers”.
But they also accused the US of trying to take advantage of the situation.
Where is the latest unrest happening?
- Six protesters died overnight in an apparent attempt to seize guns from a police station in the town of Qahderijan in the central province of Isfahan, state TV reports
- An 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man were reported killed in the town of Khomeinishahr
- A member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was fatally wounded in nearby Kahrizsang, state media say
- There were reports of shots being fired at police in Najafabad, near Isfahan, killing one officer and wounding three
- Some 450 people have been arrested in Tehran Province in recent days, the deputy governor-general of the province said
How has the outside world reacted?
US President Donald Trump has posted a string of tweets in support of the protesters and against Iran’s leaders, the latest one on Tuesday.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi responded by saying Mr Trump should focus on “the domestic issues of his own country, such as daily killings of dozens of people… and the existence of millions of homeless and hungry people”.
In other reaction:
- The EU called on Iran to guarantee its citizens’ right to peaceful protest, saying it had been in touch with Iranian authorities and was monitoring the situation
- Turkey expressed concern at the unrest spreading and warned against any escalation
- France said it was concerned at the number of victims and arrests
Where will the protests lead?
By Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor
The demonstrations started last week in Mashhad, Iran’s second biggest city, and since then have spread.
To begin with they were about the economy, unemployment and inflation. Some protesters have asked why Iran is spending a lot of money on regional conflicts when people are suffering at home.
But quickly demonstrations moved on to politics, criticising leading figures in the Islamic Republic and some even calling for a return to the monarchy that was overthrown by revolution in 1979.
This is not a new revolution but the protests are the biggest in Iran since the disputed presidential election in 2009. This time, though, it seems to be a movement without national leaders.
President Rouhani has tried to play it all down. Reformists and conservatives have been blaming each other and foreigners. But the protests show how discontented Iranians are with their lives, increasing poverty, and repression by the regime.
What happened in 2009?
Mass demonstrations – referred to as the Green Movement – were held by millions of opposition supporters against the disputed election victory of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
At least 30 people were killed and thousands arrested in the wave of protests, which drew the largest crowds in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.