Britain called on Iran to engage in meaningful debate about issues raised by protesters, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
“We believe there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues that the protesters are raising, and we’re looking to the Iranian authorities to permit that,” the spokesman said.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also accused enemies of the Islamic Republic of stirring unrest across the country as a crackdown intensified against anti-government demonstrations that began on Saturday.
Police have arrested more than 450 protesters in the capital Tehran over the past three days, the deputy provincial governor said.
Protesters also attacked police stations elsewhere in Iran late into the night on Monday, news agency and social media reports said.
One member of the security forces was reported killed on Monday, bringing to at least 14 the death toll stemming from the boldest challenge to Iran’s clerical leadership since unrest in 2009.
In his first reaction to the unrest, Khamenei said: “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.”
Khamenei said on his website that he would address the nation about the recent events “when the time is right”.
He did not mention any enemies by name but Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said the U.S., Britain and Saudi Arabia were behind the recent riots in Iran.
“Saudis will receive Iran’s unexpected response and they know how serious it can be,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying by Tasnim news in an interview with Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV.
Musa Ghazanfarabadi, head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, warned protesters on Tuesday that those arrested would face harsh punishment.
The semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Ali Naserbakht, the deputy governor of Tehran province, as saying that 200 people were arrested on Saturday in Tehran, 150 people on Sunday and about 100 people on Monday.
Hundreds of others have been arrested in other cities, according to agency reports and social media.
Naserbakht said the situation in Tehran was under control and police has not asked for the help of the Revolutionary Guards special forces.
Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said 90 per cent of the detainees were under 25-years-old, showing frustration among youths from the economic situation and lack of social freedoms.
Mehr news agency quoted a judiciary official as saying that several ringleaders of protests in Karaj, the fourth largest city in Iran, have been arrested.
Ghazanfarabadi said the detainees will be soon put on trial and the ringleaders would face serious charges including “moharebeh” — an Islamic term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.
Iran’s judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani ordered prosecutors on Monday to “punish rioters firmly”.
The demonstrations which broke out last week were initially focused on economic hardships and alleged corruption but turned into political rallies.
Anger was soon directed at the clerical leadership that has been in power since the 1979 revolution, including Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s system of dual clerical and republican rule.
People protest in Tehran, Iran Dec. 30, in this picture obtained from social media. REUTERS
Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence
with rival Saudi Arabia.
Many Iranians resent the foreign interventions and want their leaders to create jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 29 percent last year.
Government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said in a news conference that both protesters and the security forces should follow the law.
“People have the rights to protest but there is a difference between demonstration and riot…Even those who are confronting the rioters should act within the framework of law,” he said.
Videos on social media on Monday showed an intense clash in the central town of Qahderijan between security forces and protesters who were trying to occupy a police station, which was partially set ablaze.
There were unconfirmed reports of several casualties among demonstrators.
In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, but no one was hurt in the incident, Mehr news agency said.
State television reported that protesters burned down four mosques in villages in Savadkuh County in northern Iran on Monday.