Khamenei says Iran protests US-Israeli ‘plot’

State media quoted Iranian leader Ali Khamenei as saying the protests were planned, not organized by “ordinary Iranians”, in his first reaction to the ongoing unrest.

Khamenei’s reaction calling protesters “rioters” and praising security forces is similar to his comments on anti-government protests in the past, such as in January 2017 and November 2019, when security forces killed at least 1,500 people.

Khamenei, 83, who ruled for 33 years, said: “I say explicitly and clearly that the riots and the insecurity were planned by America and the usurper, the fake Zionist regime.”

In fact, the protests began in mid-September after a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, was killed with severe blows to the head while in the custody of hijab police. His death first sparked protests in his native Kurdish region of western Iran, then reached the capital Tehran and other cities two days later.

As often happens in Iran, officials tried to cast his death as the result of illness, and no one was held accountable after the initial incident on September 13.

Reported appearance of Khamenei on Monday at a ceremony that came after his two-week complete absence from the stage which had led to speculation about his health. He had been reported to be sick even before the protests.

Although state media quoted Khamenei extensively and published some photos of the ceremony, no video was released, which could have presented stronger evidence of his health.

Ahead of his appearance on Monday, some social media activists said Khamenei supporters might wonder where their leader is. But Iran’s leader in the past has often waited to see if his forces were poised to win before coming forward and condemning the protests. This time, he apparently couldn’t wait any longer.

Protests in nearly 100 towns and villages over the past two weeks have been met with violence by security forces and 133 protesters have been confirmed dead by a human rights group, but so far the government has not used overwhelming military force to kill protesters.

Most of the anger during the protests has been directed at Khamenei himself, with frequent chants of “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei”. He is seen as presiding over a pyramid of repression by the clerics and loyal Revolutionary Guards, with corruption rampant throughout the government.

Khamenei also praised security forces and cadres loyal to him on Monday, although he also claimed that the Iranian people oppose what he described as a plot to foment protests. He also repeated baseless claims by his supporters that protesters had “burned Korans”, forced women to remove their hijabs and attacked mosques.

Khamenei also said Mahsa Amini’s death was an excuse and even if she hadn’t died “they would have created another excuse…to sow insecurity in the country.”

While the United States and many other countries have condemned Mahsa Amini’s death as well as discrimination and violence against women in Iran, Khamenei dismissed the criticism. He also rejected US statements that Washington has no intention of attacking Iran or changing the regime.

“The enemies’ plots and actions show their true selves. The same enemy who in diplomatic remarks says we have no intention of attacking Iran or changing its regime…is pursuing plots to create riots said Khamenei.

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