'Complete nonsense': Haley slams Iran leader's 'outside foes' claim



NEW YORK/TEHRAN, Farshid Motahari (dpa) - The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, on Tuesday described as "complete nonsense" claims from Iran's Supreme Leader that "foes of Iran" were behind the anti-government protests that have rocked the country over the past few days.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier "the foes of Iran have supplied money and weapons, as well as political support, to those fomenting unrest in the last days, with the goal of hurting Iran."



The remarks were Khamenei's first public reaction to the protests, which have left at least 19 people dead and led to hundreds of arrests across the country.
Haley responded, saying "the Iranian dictatorship is trying to do what it always does, which is to say the protests were designed by Iran's enemies."
"We all know that's complete nonsense," she said. "The demonstrations are completely spontaneous ... This is the precise picture of a long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators."
Haley said the US would call for an emergency session at the UN Security Council in New York and at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Since Thursday, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to air their grievances, including the high cost of living, unemployment and Tehran's Middle East policies, with some targeting the country's religious establishment.
The unrest has attracted greater attention abroad as the numbers of those killed and injured has risen, in particular from US President Donald Trump.
Iranian officials have roundly rejected comments by Trump, who has repeatedly attacked Iranian leaders via his Twitter feed.
"The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime," Trump wrote on Tuesday.
His spokesman, Sarah Sanders, followed up in a briefing later Tuesday by saying that the US was "keeping options open in terms of new sanctions against the Iranian regime."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday released a video message supporting the protesters, while Syria - whose President Bashar al-Assad receives military support from Iran - weighed in on the side of the Iranian government on Tuesday.
President Hassan Rowhani on Tuesday held a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, in which he insisted that Iran was free and democratic.
"This was demonstrated and proven particularly during the presidential elections [in 2017]," he told Macron, according to Rowhani's office. He also said that Tehran would stick to the international nuclear deal of 2015, an agreement opposed by Trump.
Meanwhile, European Union diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini said that Brussels was "closely following" the demonstrations and that "we expect all concerned to refrain from violence and the right of expression to be guaranteed."
Despite claims by the government and on state media that there were fewer protests across the country on Tuesday evening, reports on social media indicate renewed demonstrations in the capital Tehran and several other cities.
It was not clear how many of the 19 confirmed victims were demonstrators, bystanders, police, or members of the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
According to state broadcaster Irib, one Revolutionary Guard member was shot dead in the central city of Najafabad.
Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri warned anti-government demonstrators of serious consequences if the violence continues.
"The joke is over," and "rioters" would be dealt with firmly by the security and judicial authorities, Montazeri said.
Several people accused of being "agents" behind the unrest have been arrested, the intelligence services said.
The protests of recent days had turned violent "due to the presence of suspicious and aggressive elements," the Intelligence Ministry was cited as saying by the Ilna news agency.
There is no official information on the total number of arrests, but unconfirmed reports say up to 800 people could have been detained.
One detainee was arrested for burning the Iranian flag during a demonstration. A video of the flag-burning, apparently in Tehran, had spread on social media sites.
Rowhani has taken a more moderate approach to the unrest, saying on Monday that "the problems of the people are not simply economic in nature."
"They're also demanding more freedoms," Rowhani said, in an indirect attack on regime hardliners who oppose his attempts to push through political and cultural reforms.
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Wednesday, January 3rd 2018
Farshid Motahari
           


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