Iranwire – Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei used his speech marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year, to claim that the anti-government protests that have swept Iran for more than six months are part of a global conspiracy aimed at weakening the Islamic Republic.
In a televised address on March 21 from the Imam Reza Shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Khamenei accused the “enemies” of seeking to change the “identity” of the Islamic Republic and “remove all the things that remind the people of pure Islam and the revolution.”
He accused US President Joe Biden and “some European leaders” of supporting the protesters, who he said failed to “weaken the Islamic system.”
As Khamenei’s annual speech was being broadcast on state TV after midnight, Iranians chanted anti-government slogans from balconies and roofs in Tehran and elsewhere, social media footage showed.
Tehran residents also took to the streets in several areas of the capital despite a heavy presence of security forces.
In several western Kurdish cities, security forces used shotguns and tear gas to disperse protests, wounding dozens of people.
Iran has been swept by popular protests demanding fundamental economic, social and political changes since the September 2022 death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody.
The women-led protest movement poses one of the most serious challenges to the theocracy installed by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Security forces have killed more than 520 people and detained over 20,000 since the demonstrations began, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
The European Union, the United States and other countries have issued several waves of sanctions against the Islamic Republic in recent months over its crackdown on the protests and its supply of drones to Russia for its war effort in Ukraine.
In his March 21 speech, Khamenei reiterated Tehran’s position that it has had no participation in the conflict in Ukraine, despite widespread evidence to the contrary.