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Iran blames enemies for deadly unrest

Iran blames enemies for deadly unrest
By Natalie Huet with Reuters, AP
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Supreme Leader Khamenei accuses the country's enemies of stirring unrest, as the death toll from anti-government protests rises.


Iran’s Supreme Leader on Tuesday (Jan. 2) accused the country’s enemies of stirring unrest as the death toll from growing anti-government protests rose to 21.

More amateur footage of the demonstrations has surfaced. Several were released by FreedomMessenger, which describes itself as an "independent Iranian news agency seeking complete change of the Iranian regime by reporting on the human rights situation in Iran."

One video showed an attack on a police station in Qahderijan, in the centre of the country, where six protesters were killed. Another showed protesters marching through Tehran, chanting "Death to the dictator."

At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been arrested since the demonstrations started last week over rising food prices. They have since grown into the biggest challenge to Iran's clerical leadership in eight years.

State television reported that protesters who set fire to four mosques in villages in Savadkuh County in northern Iran on Monday (Dec. 1) had been arrested.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the unrest on Iran's enemies, without naming them.

"All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have used various means, including money, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus, to create troubles for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution," he said in his first public reaction since the demonstrations began.

He did not mention any enemies by name but Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia were behind the riots.

On Twitter, US President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting daily in support of the protesters, said on Tuesday: "The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime... The U.S. is watching!"

More than 450 protesters were arrested in the capital in the last three days, Tehran's deputy provincial governor said, and hundreds of others were detained around the country, with judicial officials saying they would be severely punished.

**Who are the protesters and why are they taking to the streets?

The government said 90 percent of the detainees were under 25 years old, signaling frustration among youths over the country's economic situation and lack of social freedoms.

The protests in Iran are the biggest the country has seen since the 2009 presidential election.

Massoud Salari, journalist with Euronews' Persian service, walks us through what's going on:

"The big difference between the current demonstrations and those of 2009 is that this time, they've started outside of the capital.


"They started in Mashhad, then spread to other cities and finally reached Tehran. Here we're also talking about economic problems and high living costs being the root cause of the current protests, whereas the motive behind the 2009 riots was more political.

"One of the first theories floated was that the fundamentalists who oppose Rouhani's moderate government may have tried to rile up some of their supporters and get them to protest on the streets of Mashhad and other cities, but the demonstrations quickly spiraled out of control.

"Another theory is that the riots were not spontaneous but were caused by a foreign agent manipulating the people. One argument for that theory is the fact Trump said he supported the uprising of the Iranian people and a change of regime.

"The Iranian regime has always strongly repressed such riots. This time again, it has pledged to crack down on the protests, and according to state information, some demonstrators have been killed, and a very large number of them have been arrested.


"But this time the Islamic Republic is also taking new measures. Officials are recognising that, in theory at least, people are allowed to protest. Reformist figureheads have even been invited to take part in negotiations.

"They have also tried to bring down the prices of some food products such as eggs, whose price had spiked just before the rallies and which some see as the pretext for current demonstrations."

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