Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Iran's "enemies" on Tuesday for stirring up unrest in the country, as the death toll from days of anti-government protests climbed to 21.
In his first remarks since demonstrations erupted last Thursday, Khamenei said he would speak to the nation in due course about the recent events, but that it was Iran's "enemies" who were to blame for the days of protests and violence.
Nine people were killed on Monday, including seven protesters, a member of a pro-government militia, and a policeman. Twelve others were killed over the weekend as the protests intensified.
Around 450 people have been arrested over the past three days, according to state media, in what has become the biggest challenge to the government's authority since mass demonstrations in 2009.
The rallies began over the country's stagnant economy and rising living costs, but they developed into a broader outcry against the government and intensified over the weekend.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to downplay the significance of the protests, which have spread beyond the capital of Tehran to at least 18 cities.
"Our great nation has witnessed a number of similar incidents in the past and has comfortably dealt with them. This is nothing," Rouhani said in a meeting with Iranian members of parliament Monday.
But other officials have warned of strict crackdowns, and the mass arrests show that the country is concerned by spreading dissent.
Ali Asghar Nasser-Bakht, Tehran's Deputy Governor for Political and Security affairs, warned that "those who wish to congregate in public must obtain permits from the Ministry of the Interior, and be aware than any public disturbances or threats, are against the laws and they will not be tolerated."