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Lawmaker Says 3,700 Arrested In Iran, Khamenei Points Finger At U.S.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed a meeting in Tehran on January 9.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed a meeting in Tehran on January 9.

An Iranian lawmaker says that about 3,700 people have been arrested during antigovernment protests, while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is claiming that Tehran foiled what he called attempts by the United States and Britain to create unrest.

The number of arrests cited by reformist lawmaker Mahmud Sadeghi on January 9 is far higher than figures announced by the authorities.

Protesters in dozens of cities across Iran have vented anger about high unemployment and official corruption since December 28. Some demonstrators have called for the overthrow of Khamenei and the powerful conservative clerics who maintain Islamic rule.

In a tweet, Khamenei repeated accusations -- rejected by the U.S. and other governments -- that foreign countries including the United States and its allies were behind the protests.

"Once again, the nation tells the U.S., Britain, and those who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran from abroad that 'you've failed, and you will fail in the future, too'," Khamenei said in a message on his official Twitter account on January 9.

Khamenei said that some of the calls being made by the demonstrators were "honest and rightful demands." He did not elaborate.

At least 22 people have been killed as a result of the unrest and government crackdowns surrounding the protests.

Citing what he said were Iranian intelligence reports, Khamenei said that "there's been a triangle pattern activating these events."

He said that "the scheme was formed" by the United States and Israel and "the money came from a wealthy government" near the Persian Gulf, an apparent reference to Tehran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

Khamenei also claimed that protest leaders were "henchmen" and members of the "MEK," a reference to the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (aka MKO), or People's Mujahedin of Iran, an exiled dissident group that backs the overthrow of Iran's leadership. He claimed the MKO had been "hired as minions for this plot."

State media outlets also have claimed that protest leaders have been either members of MKO or monarchists.

People's 'Legitimate Right'

But President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate who advocates warmer ties with the West, suggested on January 8 that the demonstrations were driven by opposition within Iran to his ultraconservative rivals in the ruling elite.

The Iranian people "have a legitimate right to demand that we see and hear them and look into their demands," Rohani said, suggested the real targets of the protests had been the powerful conservative clerics who oppose his plans to expand individual liberties and promote better relations with Western countries.

"It would be a misrepresentation and also an insult to the Iranian people to say they only had economic demands," Rohani told the state-run Tasnim news agency. "People had economic, political, and social demands."

"We must simply accept the fact that the people have the last word," Rohani said. "We [politicians] must accept that we are now sitting in a glass house."

Khamenei on January 9 appeared to acknowledge Rohani's call, saying on Twitter that "there is a correct point commonly made" in "various analysis" of "the recent events."

Khamenei said that "people's honest and rightful demands" must be separated from "the violent and vandalizing moves by a certain group."

Khamenei also rejected U.S. President Donald Trump's claim that Iran's Islamic establishment was "terrified" by U.S. power.

"If we were so terrified by you, how did we kick you out of Iran in the late 1970s and send you packing, out of the entire region, in the 2010s?" Khamenei said.

Iran's religious establishment came to power following the 1979 overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah.

The United States has rejected Tehran's claims that Washington or U.S. intelligence agencies have been behind the protests.

But Trump has praised what he called the courage of the Iranian demonstrators and said that the United States would support them "at the appropriate time."

Iranian authorities have said that the protests are waning and have staged rallies by government supporters across the country to counter the unrest.

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