DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Monday reacted to the biggest protests in years in Iran, breaking the weeks-long silence, denouncing what he called a “riot” and accusing the United States and Israel of planning the attack. . protests
Unrest fueled by the death of a young woman detained by Iran’s morality police has flared across the country for the third week, despite government efforts to crack it down.
On Monday, Iran closed its top tech university after an hour-long standoff between students and police that turned the prestigious institution into the latest flashpoint for protests and ended with the arrests of hundreds of teenagers.
Speaking to a cadre of police students in Tehran, Khamenei said he was “deeply heartbroken” by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, describing it as a “tragic event”. However, he reiterated the authorities’ previous comments and denounced the protests as a foreign plot to destabilize Iran.
“This uprising was planned,” he said. “These revolts and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime and their employees.”
Meanwhile, Sharif University of Technology in Tehran has announced that only PhD students will be allowed on campus until further notice, after hours of turmoil on Sunday, where witnesses said anti-government protesters clashed with pro-establishment students.
Witnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said police closed hundreds of students on campus and used tear gas to disperse the demonstrations. The student union said plain-clothes officers surrounded the school from all sides as protests shook the campus after nightfall and detained at least 300 students.
The association added that plainclothes police beat a professor and several university employees.
The state-run IRNA news agency tried to downplay the severe standoff and reported that a “protest meeting” took place without any casualties. However, it was also stated that the police released 30 students from custody, admitting that many of them were accidentally caught in nets while trying to get home.
The repression sparked backlash at home and abroad on Monday.
“Let’s just beat and arrest him, is that the solution?” He asked a columnist in Jomhouri Eslami, a hardline Iranian newspaper. “Is this efficient?”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock condemned the “brute force of the regime” at Sharif University as “an expression of fear at the power of education and freedom”.
“The courage of the Iranians is unbelievable,” he said.
US President Joe Biden said he “remains gravely concerned about reports of intensification of violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters, including students and women, who demand equal rights and basic human dignity in Iran.”
“The United States stands by Iranian women and all Iranian citizens who inspire the world with their courage,” Biden said.
“It is absolutely crucial to show maximum restraint, maximum restraint when dealing with demonstrations around the world, and the same is clearly true for Iran,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.
Iran’s latest protest movement, which has caused some of the country’s most widespread unrest in years, came as a response to Amini’s death after he was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code. It has since become an open challenge to the Iranian leadership, with women burning state-mandated headscarves and chants of “Death to the dictator” echoing from the streets and balconies after dark.
The demonstrations touched on a deep source of grievances in Iran, including social restrictions, political repression, and a sick economy stifled by American sanctions. Unrest continued in Tehran and distant provinces, despite authorities cutting off internet access and blocking social media apps.
Protests also spread to the Middle East, Europe and North America. Thousands took to the streets of Los Angeles to show solidarity. Police clashed with protesters outside the Iranian embassies in London and Athens. The crowd shouted, “Woman! Life! Freedom!” in Paris.
Khamenei on Monday denounced scenes where protesters take off their headscarves and set fire to mosques, banks and police cars as “unnatural, unnatural acts”. He warned that “those who foment unrest to sabotage the Islamic Republic deserve harsh prosecution and punishment.”
Security forces responded with tear gas, metal pellets and in some cases real fire, according to rights groups and widely shared footage, but the extent of the crackdown remains unclear.
Iranian state television reported that the death toll in violent clashes between protesters and security guards could rise to 41. Human rights groups gave higher death tolls, and London-based Amnesty International said it had identified 52 victims.
Countless people were arrested, and local authorities reported at least 1,500 arrests. Security forces detained artists and dozens of journalists who supported the protests. Most recently, on Sunday, authorities arrested Alborz Nezami, a reporter for a business newspaper in Tehran.
Iran’s intelligence ministry said nine foreigners were detained because of the protests. Italian traveler Alessia Piperno, 30, called her family on Sunday to say she had been arrested, her father, Alberto Piperno, told Italian news agency ANSA.
“We are very worried,” he said. “The situation is not going well.”
Most of the protesters appear to be under the age of 25 – Iranians who know little apart from the global isolation and severe Western sanctions linked to Iran’s nuclear program, according to witnesses. Negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled for months, fueling discontent as Iran’s currency depreciated and prices soared.
Shahindokht Kharazmi, a Tehran-based university teacher, said the new generation has found unpredictable ways to defy the authorities.
“(young protesters) learned the strategy from video games and played to win,” Kharazmi told the pro-reform newspaper Etemad. “There is no such thing as defeat for them.”
As the new school year kicks off this week, students at universities in Iran’s major cities gathered to protest, clapping, chanting anti-government slogans and waving their headscarves, according to videos widely shared on social media.
The eruption of student anger has worried the Islamic Republic since at least 1999, when security forces and supporters of strict clergy attacked students protesting media restrictions. This wave of student protests under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami led to the worst street fights since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“Don’t call it protest, this is now a revolution,” women shouted as they burned their headscarves at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.
“Students are awake, they hate leadership!” Crowds sang hymns at Mazandaran University in the north of the country.
Riot police patrol the streets near universities on motorcycles.
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