Ex-Iranian president, seen by some as moderate, condemns violence and US
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Ex-Iranian president, seen by some as moderate, condemns violence and US

Group run by Mohammad Khatami says 'opportunists and troublemakers have exploited the demonstrations to create problems'

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami delivers a Friday sermon in Tehran in April 2014. (MEMRI TV)
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami delivers a Friday sermon in Tehran in April 2014. (MEMRI TV)

The relatively moderate branch of Iran’s ruling religious movement on Tuesday condemned the violence that has rocked the country in recent days, accusing the US of stirring unrest while still calling on the government to address economic grievances.

“Without doubt the Iranian people are confronted with difficulties in their daily lives, but the events of recent days have shown that opportunists and troublemakers have exploited the demonstrations to create problems,” said a statement from the Association of Religious Combatants, headed by the reformist ex-president and cleric Mohammad Khatami.

“The enemies of Iran, headed by the United States and their agents… have encouraged the troublemakers and the violent actions.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Iran’s supreme leader blamed the country’s “enemies” for days of unrest that have seen 21 killed and hundreds arrested in the biggest test for the Islamic regime in years.

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)

The foreign ministry in Tehran also lashed out at US President Donald Trump after his latest Twitter attack on the Iranian authorities over the protests, insisting he should focus on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country.

In a speech carried on state television Ayatollah Ali Khamenei broke his silence on the protests for the first time since they erupted last Thursday.

“The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime,” the supreme leader said.

“The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation.”

A fifth night of unrest Monday to Tuesday saw six protesters killed during an attack on a police station in Qahderijan in the central province of Isfahan, state TV said Tuesday.

At least three other towns near the cultural hub of Isfahan also saw violence overnight, causing the deaths of a young member of the Revolutionary Guards, a policeman and a bystander.

The estimated death toll is now 21 since protests began in second city Mashhad and quickly spread to become the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime since mass demonstrations in 2009.

As violence has grown, authorities have stepped up arrests, with at least 450 people detained in Tehran since Saturday and 100 more around Isfahan on Monday, officials told local media.

US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized Tehran since the latest protests began, praised the demonstrators for acting against the “brutal and corrupt” regime and said Iranians had “little food, big inflation and no human rights”.

Iran’s foreign ministry fired back that the US leader was “wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets” and advised him to pay more attention to “domestic issues” in his homeland.

The unrest in Iran appears leaderless and focused on provincial towns and cities, with only small and sporadic protests in Tehran as a heavy police presence was reported.

Iranians chant slogans, as they march in support of the government, near the Imam Khomeini grand mosque in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / TASNIM NEWS / HAMED MALEKPOUR)

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, described the unrest as a “proxy war against the Iranian people” and said online accounts in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia are fomenting protests.

A Revolutionary Guards spokesman said the powerful force had not been requested to intervene directly, but insisted officials will “take decisions to finish” insecurity if it persists.

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