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Iran’s supreme leader blames ‘enemies’ for deadly protests

US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, blamed “enemies” of Iran on Tuesday for protests that have left more than 20 people dead, in his first comments since the unrest started last week.

“In recent events, enemies of Iran have allied & used the various means they possess, including money, weapons, politics & intelligence services, to trouble the Islamic Republic,” read a post in English on Khamenei’s Twitter account. “The enemy is always looking for an opportunity & any crevice to infiltrate & strike the Iranian nation.”

As of Tuesday morning, the death toll from the protests across the country and the ensuing crackdown by the government and security services was at least 21. About 450 people had been taken into custody in the capital, Tehran, alone, according to the semiofficial news agency ILNA, and arrests have also been reported elsewhere.

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Khamenei, who has been a target of the protesters, did not specify which individuals or countries he was referring to, saying he would “speak to the dear people when the time is right.”

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His remarks came a day after President Trump criticized Iran, saying the country’s leaders had repressed their people for years.

Trump again addressed the situation there Tuesday, in another Twitter post that appeared shortly after the supreme leader’s, in which he expressed solidarity with the Iranian people, even though he has sought to prevent them from entering the United States.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

That drew an angry response from Iran, with Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, describing Trump’s comments as insulting, useless, and counterproductive, the state news media reported.

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“It is better for him to try to address the internal issues, like the murder of scores killed on a daily basis in the United States during armed clashes and shootings, as well as millions of the homeless and hungry people in the country,” Qasemi said, according to the state-run news agency IRNA.

At the United Nations headquarters Tuesday, the American envoy, Nikki Haley, rejected the Iranian government’s attempts to blame the United States and others for the protests.

Speaking to reporters, Haley read a list of slogans she said had been shouted at protests throughout Iran, saying she wanted to “amplify the voices of the Iranian people.” Among the slogans: “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic” and “We will die, but will take Iran back.”

“Those are not my words,” she said. “Those are not the words of the United States. Those are the words of the brave people of Iran.”

Haley said that in the coming days, she would work to organize a special session at the United Nations and the Human Rights Council in Geneva to address the situation in Iran.

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The protests are the largest in Iran since 2009, during the so-called Green Movement, which took place after the election of the hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and transitioned into a wider protest against the country’s leadership.

‘Those are not the words of the United States. Those are the words of the brave people of Iran.’

The latest demonstrations, which largely seemed to come out of nowhere and have surprised the authorities with their size and intensity, appear to be rooted in anger toward President Hassan Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate, and his inability to bring change to an economy that has long suffered under the weight of sanctions.

As the protests have continued, however, they have taken on a political bent directed at the establishment, with demonstrators calling for the death of Rouhani and Khamenei.

Rouhani has tried to acknowledge the protesters’ complaints, asking them to avoid violence while saying they had a right to be heard, but others in the government have called for a firmer response.

Brigadier General Esmaeil Kowsari, deputy chief of the main Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran, told the semiofficial news agency ISNA: “If this situation continues, the officials will definitely make some decisions, and at that point this business will be finished.”