Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded publicly on Monday to the violent anti-government protests raging across the country, blaming the U.S. and Israel for the challenges to the Islamic republic’s authority.
The social unrest, ignited by the death of a young woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iran’s morality police, is flaring up nationally for a third week despite government efforts to crack down, as Breitbart News reported.
Amini was taken into custody and murdered for the simple act of defying Islamic religious authorities and not wearing a hijab.
The official death toll stands at 41, but rights groups have given higher death counts, with London-based Amnesty International saying it has identified 52 victims as protests against the murder build outside Iran.
AP reports on Monday, Iran shuttered its top technology university following an hours-long standoff between students and the police that turned the prestigious institution into the latest flashpoint of protests and ended with hundreds of young people arrested.
Speaking to a cadre of police students in Tehran, Khamenei said he was “deeply heartbroken” by the death of Amini in police custody, calling it a “tragic incident.” However, he lambasted the protests as a foreign plot to destabilize Iran, echoing authorities’ previous comments.
“This rioting was planned,” he said. “These riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock condemned the “the regime’s brute force” at Sharif University as “an expression of sheer fear at the power of education and freedom.”
“The courage of Iranians is incredible,” she said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told over the reporters over the weekend: “It is absolutely essential to show maximum restraint, maximum containment, when dealing (with) demonstrations all over the world, and the same is valid, obviously, for Iran.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report