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Protests turn violent in Iran
01:41 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday blamed Iran’s “enemies” for stirring up unrest in the country, as the death toll from days of anti-government protests climbed to 21.

In his first remarks since the demonstrations erupted last Thursday, Khamenei accused the nation’s enemies of “joining forces” and blamed them for the protests that have turned violent.

“The enemy is waiting for an opportunity, for a flaw, through which they can enter. Look at these events over the last few days. All those who are against the Islamic Republic – those who have money, those who have the politics, those who have the weapons, those who have the intelligence – they have all joined forces in order to create problems for the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution,” he said, without naming any particular country.

The US ambassador to the United Nations said any assertions that the protests are designed by Iran’s enemies are “complete nonsense,” and that the US would ask Security Council members for an emergency session in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva to discuss the protests “in the days ahead.”

“The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause,” Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Key developments

  • Protesters took to the streets for the sixth straight day.
  • Nine people were killed on Monday, including seven protesters, state media reports, taking the toll to 21.
  • 450 people have been arrested in the past three days.
  • President Hassan Rouhani slammed US President Donald Trump for tweeting his support for protesters.
  • Trump called the Iranian government “brutal and corrupt” in a second tweet Tuesday.
  • Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says “infiltrators” won’t be allowed to sabotage protests.
  • An Iranian reformist group led by ex-President Mohammad Khatami accused the US of encouraging violence.
Khamenei delivered a statement in Tehran on Tuesday.

Days of violence

The protests have become the biggest challenge to the Iranian government’s authority since mass demonstrations in 2009. About 450 people have been arrested over the past three days, according to state media.

The rallies began Thursday over the country’s stagnant economy and rising living costs, but they developed into a broader outcry against the government and intensified over the weekend. Many of the protesters are young Iranians tired of the lack of economic opportunity in the country.

MORE: The economic forces driving protests in Iran

Protesters hit the streets for a sixth straight day Tuesday. Small protests – not as large as previous days – appeared in pockets of the capital, Tehran, a CNN producer there reported.

Video on social media appeared to show police officers and demonstrators clashing Tuesday evening in the south-central city of Shiraz. In the video, people scatter through streets amid the sounds of yelling and honking car horns. CNN couldn’t immediately independently verify the video’s authenticity.

Of the nine people killed Monday, seven were protesters. Six of them died in the central city of Qahdarijan when demonstrators stormed a police station and attempted to take guns from authorities, state media reported. The seventh protester was killed in nearby Khomaini Shahr.

A demonstration at the University of Tehran on Saturday

A police officer died in Najafabad after a protester shot at officers with a hunting rifle, according to state media. Three other officers were wounded. A member of the Basij, a pro-government militia, was also killed, in south Tehran.

Video images shared on social media from the central city of Tuyserkan on Sunday showed protesters throwing chairs, tables and other objects at riot police, forcing the outnumbered officers to retreat. Six protesters were shot dead in the unrest there, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

A man and his young son also died on Sunday when a fire truck hijacked by protesters ran them down on a street in western Iran’s Dorud, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Twelve people were killed over the weekend.

Social media crackdown

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday tried to downplay the significance of the protests, which have spread beyond the capital of Tehran to at least 18 cities, claiming that “This is nothing” compared to other outbreaks of unrest.

But authorities have nonetheless responded with mass arrests and by restricting the use of the social media apps Instagram and Telegram, used to organize the rallies.