Iran’s Khamenei blames US and Israel for street protests

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused the US and Israel of orchestrating the anti-regime protests sparked by the death in police custody of a young woman who was arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code.

At least 41 people have been killed in a raid since protests broke out across the country in recent weeks, state television said. Amnesty International puts the death toll at over 50.

In his first comments since the protests began, Khamenei supported the police, saying “these riots and insecurities were orchestrated by the US and the fake Zionist regime, while their employees and some Iranian traitors living abroad were helping them.”

Khamenei told Iranian forces in a public speech on Monday that he was also “hurt” over “this incident” — the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, after morality police arrested her in the capital, Tehran. Her family said she was beaten while in custody at the morality center. Police officials denied this and said her death was linked to a pre-existing medical condition.

However, Iran’s supreme leader said while the investigation into her death was underway, it was “not normal” to see “that some have made streets unsafe, burned the Koran, stripped of the hijab of religious women and set fire to mosques, religious sites and… people’s cars”.

“In these incidents, the country’s police forces, the Basij [voluntary forces of the Revolutionary Guards] and the Iranian nation faced injustice. Of course, the Iranian nation showed itself very strongly in this incident and it will continue to do so in the future.”

Iran is experiencing its biggest unrest since 2019 over rising fuel prices. Young people flock to the streets at night or protest at universities during the day. The slogans of many demonstrators are directed more against Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in the theocratic state, than against the uncompromising President Ebrahim Raisi.

Demonstrators, initially angered by the headscarf requirement and the treatment of Amini, are also calling for the establishment of a democratic, secular system.

On Sunday evening, students from the prestigious Sharif University in Tehran demonstrated demanding the release of students who were arrested while chanting anti-regime slogans. On Sunday alone, security forces arrested more than 30 students, the students later said in a statement. The university announced on Monday that classes will only be held online until further notice.

Western leaders have expressed support for the protesters and have criticized the regime’s actions.

US President Joe Biden said during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly that his government stands with “the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating right now to secure their fundamental rights.”

The UK summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in London on Monday to condemn Tehran’s crackdown on protesters and urged the regime to respect the right to peaceful assembly.

“The violence used by the security forces against protesters in Iran is truly shocking,” said James Cleverly, the British Foreign Secretary. “Instead of blaming external actors for the unrest, they should take responsibility for their actions and listen to the concerns of their people.”

Khamenei said that “the same enemy [US] which says in its diplomatic comments that it has no intention of attacking Iran or changing that [political] system, holds these intentions deep down and tries to cause riots and make the country unsafe.”

He added: “Even if it weren’t about this young girl, another excuse would have been found to create insecurity and unrest in the country.”

Iran’s judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei vowed Monday to deal with those who are fueling the crisis now that “it has become clear, like the Great Satan [the US] and Zionists are leading the scene, training and arming terrorists to threaten the security of Iranians.” Iran’s Khamenei blames US and Israel for street protests

Adam Bradshaw

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