A handout photo provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on January 2, 2018, shows him delivering a statement in the capital Tehran. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region –Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is placing blame on Iran’s “enemies” for the cause of at least 22 deaths reported along with hundreds arrested on the sixth day in a row of anti-government protests across the country.
"The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime," Khamenei said on Tuesday in a televised speech, speaking for the first time since clashes broke out on Thursday, AFP reported.
"The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation," he added.
As anti-government protests and violence has spread across the country, security forces have stepped up arrests, with at least 450 people arrested in Tehran since Saturday and 100 more arrested in Isfahan on Monday.
“Last night, 100 protesters were arrested in Tehran alone,” Mohammed Baqir, spokesperson for the Iranian government said.
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani described the protests as “a proxy war against the Iranian people,” adding that “hashtags and messages about the situation in Iran come from the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia.”
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Tuesday stating they were “concerned” about the demonstrations, deaths and destruction of public buildings.
“Turkey attaches great importance to the preservation of peace and stability of friendly and brotherly Iran,” the statement read, calling on protesters to refrain from violence.
The statement also added that they hope escalation is prevented and that “external interventions are avoided.”
Tensions are high across the country as people took to the streets for a sixth consecutive day on Tuesday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned other nations against becoming involved in “Iran’s internal affairs.”
“External interference destabilizing the situation is inadmissible,” read a statement from the ministry on Monday, according to TASS News, expressing hope that further bloodshed and violence will be avoided.
US President Donald Trump has expressed strong support for the protesters with numerous tweets. Canada’s Foreign Ministry and the UK’s Foreign Secretary have both noted the right to peaceful protest.
On Monday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed concern about deaths of protesters.
“We appeal to the Iranian government to respect the rights of demonstrators to assemble and to peacefully raise their voices,” he said, according to Reuters. “After the confrontations of recent days, it is all the more important that all sides refrain from violent actions.”
The demonstrations began in Mashhad on Thursday where people protested against rising costs of goods and high unemployment.
They spread across the country on Friday and took on an anti-government tone as people expressed anger over corruption and clerical rule.
Protesters accused officials of being more invested in external affairs like conflicts in Syria and Yemen than meeting the needs of the people.
Iranian officials have for long defended their presence in places like Syria and Iraq. They argue that while much of the Middle East has been plagued by war and conflict, their military activities beyond their borders have secured peace and security back home.