Iran’s supreme leader breaks silence, blames US and Israel for ‘riots’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly responded Monday to Iran’s largest protests in years, breaking weeks of silence to condemn what he called “riots” and accusing the US and Israel of planning the protests.

Khamenei said he was “heartbroken” by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s vice squad, which sparked nationwide protests. However, he strongly condemned the protests as a foreign plot to destabilize Iran, echoing previous comments by the authorities.

“These riots were planned,” he told a cadre of police students in Tehran. “These riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”

He described scenes of protesters tearing off their state-imposed headscarves and setting fire to mosques, banks and police cars as “not normal” and “unnatural”.

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His comments come as nationwide protests sparked by Amini’s death have entered a third week, despite the government’s efforts to crack down.

Iranian state television reports the death toll of violent clashes between protesters and the security agents can go up to 41, without providing details. Rights groups have given higher death tolls, with London-based Amnesty International saying it has identified 52 victims, including five women and at least five children.

An untold number of people have been detained and local officials have reported at least 1,500 arrests.

Authorities have repeatedly blamed foreign countries and exiled opposition groups for fueling the unrest, without providing evidence.

The protests over Amini’s death have led to a deep source of grievances in Iran, including the country’s soaring prices, high unemployment, social restrictions and political repression. Demonstrations in Tehran and remote provinces continued, even as authorities have restricted internet access to the outside world and blocked social media apps.

As the new academic year began this week, students gathered to protest in universities across Iran, according to videos widely shared on social media, chanting anti-government slogans and denouncing the security forces’ repression against protesters.

Universities in major cities, including Isfahan in central Iran, Mashhad in the northeast and Kermanshah in the west, have held protests with crowds of students applauding, chanting and burning state-imposed headscarves.

“Don’t call it a protest, it’s a revolution now,” students at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran’s capital shouted as women took off their headscarves and set fire to Iran’s law requiring women to cover their hair.

“Students are awake, they hate the lead!” crowds of students at Mazandaran University in the north of the country chanted.

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