Iran’s top leader blames protests on meddling by 'enemies’


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday blamed the protests roiling the country on “enemies of Iran” who he said were meddling in its internal affairs, as state television reported that overnight clashes between protesters and security forces killed another nine people.

The demonstrations, the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, have brought six days of unrest across the country and resulted in at least 21 deaths.

The protests began Thursday in Mashhad over Iran’s weak economy and a jump in food prices. They have since expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds of people have been arrested and a prominent judge on Tuesday warned that some could face the death penalty.

In comments posted to his official website, Khamenei appeared to blame foreign nations for at least exacerbating the unrest gripping Iran.

“In the recent days’ incidents, enemies of Iran utilized various means — including money, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatuses — to create problems for the Islamic system,” he said, in his first public remarks since the demonstrations began.

Khamenei said he would elaborate further in the coming days. Iranian leaders often accuse the United States, Israel and Britain of seeking to overthrow the clerically overseen government.

State TV reported that six people were killed during an attack on a police station in the town of Qahdarijan. It said the clashes were sparked by rioters who tried to steal guns from the police station.

State TV also said an 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man were killed in the town of Khomeinishahr, while a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard was killed in the town of Najafabad. It says all three were shot by hunting rifles, which are common in the Iranian countryside.

The towns are all in Iran’s central Isfahan province, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Tehran.

The semi-official Mehr news agency said an assailant using a hunting rifle killed a policeman and wounded three others in Najafabad.

President Hassan Rouhani has acknowledged the public’s anger over the flagging economy, which has benefited from his signature 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but not in a way that has brought immediate gains for most Iranians.

Rouhani and others have warned that the government wouldn’t hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers. None of the protest rallies so far have received prior permission from the Interior Ministry, making them illegal.

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