Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on Monday that his country would respond to “rioters and lawbreakers,” and claimed the protests were fueled by the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia in an attempt to destabilize the Islamic Republic, The Times of Israel reported.
People took to the streets in Mashhad on Thursday to demonstrate against poor economic conditions in the country, but the unrest quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole. Thousands marched in towns across Iran to chants of “Death to the dictator” and demanded an end to Iran’s involvement in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen as well as the country’s support for terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
At least 21 people have so far been killed in the nationwide protests, including an 11-year-old boy, who died on Tuesday.
“Criticism and protest are an opportunity not a threat. The nation will themselves respond to the rioters and lawbreakers,” Rouhani responded to the protests on the presidency’s website.
“Our nation will deal with this minority who chant slogans against the law and people’s wishes, and insult the sanctities and values of the revolution,” he added.
Addressing Iranian lawmakers, Rouhani dismissed the unrest as a plot orchestrated by the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia as revenge for Iran’s expansion in the Middle East region. “Our unity was a bullet (arrow) in their eyes and our progress and success in the world of politics and against the US and the Zionist regime was not bearable to them. Our success in the region was not bearable to them,” he said, according to the semi-official Fars news website. “(The Saudis) have blatantly said that we will create problems in Tehran.”
His sentiment was echoed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who made his first public statement on Tuesday, claiming that “enemies of Iran” had stirred up unrest using “cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create trouble for the Islamic Republic.”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump observed on Tuesday that “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” adding that “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their “pockets.” The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”
In contrast, European governments responded with caution. The U.K.’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet that “we regret the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran, and call on all concerned to refrain from violence and for international obligations on human rights to be observed.”
Catherine Ray, the spokesperson of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, issued a statement saying that “The #EU is following the demonstrations in #Iran. We have been in touch with the Iranian authorities… we expect that the right to peaceful demonstration & freedom of expression will be guaranteed, following Psdt Rohani’s public statements…. We will continue to monitor the situation #Iran.”