Iran's supreme leader Khamenei blames 'enemies' for mass protests

Iran's supreme leader Khamenei blames 'enemies' for mass protests
In a speech carried on state television Ayatollah Ali Khamenei broke his silence on the protests for the first time since they erupted last Thursday.
4 min read
02 January, 2018
Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the country's "enemies" for days of protests [Getty]

Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the country's "enemies" for days of protests which have seen more than 21 people killed and hundreds arrested in the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime in years.

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in anti-government rallies last Friday, in what was thought to be the biggest show of public defiance since 2009.

The protests came a day after demonstrations against rising food prices and inflation began in second city Mashhad, with authorities arresting 52 protesters over the unrest.

In a speech carried on state television Ayatollah Ali Khamenei broke his silence on the protests for the first time since they erupted last Thursday. 

"The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime," the supreme leader said.

"The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation."

The foreign ministry in Tehran also lashed out at US President Donald Trump after his latest Twitter attack on the Iranian authorities over the protests, insisting he should focus on "homeless and hungry people" in his own country.

Trump, who has repeatedly criticised Tehran since the latest protests began, praised the demonstrators for acting against the "brutal and corrupt" regime and said Iranians had "little food, big inflation and no human rights".

Iran's foreign ministry fired back that the US leader was "wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets" and advised him to pay more attention to "domestic issues" in his homeland.

Mass arrests

As violence has grown, authorities have stepped up arrests, with at least 450 people detained in Tehran since Saturday and 100 more around Isfahan on Monday, officials told local media.

More than nine people, including a member of the Revolutionary Guards and a policeman, were killed overnight.

The unrest in Iran appears leaderless and focused on provincial towns and cities, with only small and sporadic protests in Tehran as a heavy police presence was reported.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, described the unrest as a "proxy war against the Iranian people" and said online accounts in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia are fomenting protests.

A Revolutionary Guards spokesman said the powerful force had not been requested to intervene directly, but insisted officials will "take decisions to finish" insecurity if it persists.

Reformists condemn violence, blame US

Iran's reformist politicians condemned the violence and blamed the US for encouraging "troublemakers", but also called on the authorities to address economic grievances that have fuelled the protests.

"Without doubt the Iranian people are confronted with difficulties in their daily lives... and have the right to peacefully demand and protest," said a statement from the Association of Combatant Clerics, headed by reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami.

"But the events of recent days have shown that opportunists and trouble-makers have exploited the demonstrations to create problems, insecurity and destroy public buildings, while insulting sacred religious and national values".

The group said the violence seen through five days of protests across the country would help Iran's "enemies".

"The enemies of Iran, headed by the United States and their agents... have encouraged the trouble-makers and the violent actions."

Moderate President Hassan Rouhani has tried to play down the unrest, which began over economic woes but quickly turned against the regime as a whole with chants of "Death to the dictator".

In a statement Monday he called them "nothing" and vowed Iranians would deal with "this minority who... insult the sanctities and values of the revolution".

Pro-regime rallies were held across several towns and cities - reflecting continued support among a large conservative section of society.

The head of Tehran's revolutionary court, Moussa Ghazanfarabadi, warned that as violence grows punishments for demonstrators would get "heavier".

"We no longer consider them as protesters demanding rights, but as people targeting the regime," he told the conservative Tasnim news agency.

Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but high living costs and a 12 percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.

The young are most affected, with as many as 40 percent out of work according to analysts, and rural areas particularly hard-hit.