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Six days of Iran protests: 20 dead, 450 arrested

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini blames 'enemies' for meddling in protests

The unrest started Thursday over economic issues such as rising prices and high unemployment.

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini blames 'enemies' for meddling in protests

Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY Published 3:04 a.m. ET Jan. 2, 2018 | Updated 6:07 a.m. ET Jan. 2, 2018
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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini accused the country's enemies of meddling in recent protest rallies, in his first public comments since anti-government demonstrations erupted six days ago.

At least 20 people have died and 450 have been arrested in the nationwide protests that began Thursday in Mashhad and spread to other cities, according to Iranian media.

The unrest started over economic issues such as rising prices and high unemployment, but has since widened to a more general expression of anger over alleged government corruption and discontent with Iran's clerical rulers.

Security services have used force and tear gas to disperse crowds.

According to comments published on Khamenei's official website, the supreme leader said — he did not name a specific country — Iran's enemies had used money, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatuses "to create problems for the Islamic system."

Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, said he would elaborate later.

Iranian state television reported Tuesday that nine people were killed overnight: Six rioters were killed during an attack on a police station in the town of Qahdarijan; an 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man were killed in the town of Khomeinishahr; and a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard was killed in the town of Najafabad.

The towns are all in Iran’s central Isfahan province, about 215 miles south of Tehran. The semi-official ILNA news agency reported that nationwide, 200 protesters were arrested Saturday, 150 on Sunday and 100 on Monday.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani sought to downplay the significance of the protests in a cabinet session Sunday. "We are a free nation and people are free to voice their protests according to the constitution. At the same time, we need to be aware criticism should be expressed in a way so as to change the situation for the better," he said.

Still, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency warned Tuesday that arrested protesters could potentially face the death penalty when they come to trial.

The agency quoted the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, as saying: "Obviously one of their charges can be Moharebeh," or waging war against God. The offense carries a death penalty in Iran. Iran’s Revolutionary Court handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

President Trump has made statements of support for the protesters.

More: Iran unrest threatens Tehran's tyrants. Can protesters drive them out?

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Amateur video emerged on Saturday showing large protests in the central Iranian city of Hojedk. The footage showed protesters throwing stones at security officials and chanting "down with dictator". (Dec. 30) AP

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