Tehran, Jan. 2 (TNS): Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday 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 said.
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.
The supreme leader’s reference to “enemies” is a swipe at Israel, the US and regional rival 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”.