Updated: 7:00am – 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.

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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.

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.”

He said he would address the nation about the recent events “when the time was right”. 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 warning Saudi Arabia that there would be a response from Iran “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”.

Reformist and moderate MPs have released a statement urging the authorities to be open to criticism and to be tolerant of the right to protest, which they said was enshrined in the constitution. But they also accused the US of trying to take advantage of the situation.

An image grab taken from a handout video released by Iran’s Mehr News agency reportedly shows a group of men pushing traffic barriers in a street in Tehran on December 30, 2017. Photo: AFP

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

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.

– BBC / RNZ

Featured image: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo: AFP

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