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Iran’s Khamenei backs police over Mahsa Amini protests, could signal tougher crackdown

Iran's Khamenei backs police over Mahsa Amini protests, could signal tougher crackdown
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  • Growing public anger over the death of a woman in police custody
  • Khamenei says Amini’s death ‘deeply broke my heart’
  • Supreme leader blames foreign enemies for ‘riots’
  • Anti-government protests spilled over into universities

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader on Monday gave his full support to security forces facing protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in custody, comments calling for a tougher crackdown on the unrest by more than two could announce weeks after her death.

In his first statements, he addresses the death of the 22-year-old her arrest by the vice squad over “inappropriate clothing,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said her death “broke my heart deeply,” calling it a “bitter incident” provoked by Iran’s enemies.

“The duty of our security forces, including the police, is to ensure the security of the Iranian nation… Those who attack the police leave Iranian citizens defenseless against thugs, robbers and extortionists,” Khamenei told a group of armed forces cadets in Tehran.

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Security forces, including police and the Basij volunteer militia, have led a crackdown on the protests, which has left thousands arrested and hundreds injured, according to rights groups, which put the death toll at over 130.

Iranian authorities have reported that many members of the security forces were killed during the unrest, which has turned into the largest opposition demonstration against the Iranian authorities in years, with many calling for the end of more than four decades of Islamic clerical rule.

Khamenei said security forces faced “injustice” during the protests. “In the recent incidents, it is primarily the security forces, including the police and Basij, and the people of Iran who have been wronged,” he said.

“Some people have created insecurity in the streets,” Khamenei said, sharply condemning what he called planned “riots” and accusing the United States and Israel — the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemies — of orchestrating the riots.

‘SCHEME’

“I openly declare that the recent riots were plans devised by America, the false Zionist regime (Israel) and its mercenaries inside and outside Iran,” said Khamenei, Iran’s top authority.

A few hours after Amini’s funeral in the Kurdish city of Saqez on October 14. On October 17, thousands of Iranians took to the streets across the country, people burned pictures of Khamenei and shouted “death to the dictator”, according to videos on social media.

Still, the likelihood of the Islamic Republic collapsing in the short term is slim as its leaders are determined not to show the kind of weakness they believe sealed the fate of the US-backed Shah in 1979, officials and analysts have said Reuters.

However, the unrest calls into question the priority that defined Khamenei’s rule – the survival of the four-decade-old Islamic Republic and its religious elite at all costs.

“Those who incited riots to sabotage the Islamic Republic deserve harsh prosecution and punishment,” Khamenei said.

The protests have not abated despite a growing death toll and an increasingly violent crackdown by security forces using tear gas, truncheons and — in some cases, according to videos on social media and rights groups — live ammunition.

Protests continued across Iran on Monday, with university students staging strikes after security forces clashed with students at Tehran’s prominent Sharif University on Sunday.

Dozens of students were arrested and many were injured, according to social media posts and videos. Iran’s state-run news agency said most of the arrested students were released on Monday. Reuters could not verify the videos and posts.

Authorities said only graduate students from Sharif University would be allowed on campus until further notice, state media reported.

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Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; writing by Tom Perry and Parisa Hafezi; Edited by Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Policy.

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