Iran’s Khamenei Praises Basij Forces for Confronting ‘Rioters’

A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested, in Tehran, Sept. 19. (WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo)

DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday Iran’s Basij militia forces have sacrificed their lives in what he called riots, the wave of protests sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September.

The protests that began after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police on Sept. 16 have turned into one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters from all walks of life have burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic.

The Basij forces, affiliated with the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, have been at the forefront of the state crackdown on the unrest in the past weeks.

“They have sacrificed their lives to protect people from rioters… the presence of Basij shows that the Islamic Revolution is alive,” Khamenei said in a speech.

Iran’s clerical establishment has blamed the country’s foreign enemies, particularly the United States, and their agents for the unrest.

On Saturday, videos posted on social media showed renewed protests at several universities in the capital Tehran and the central city of Isfahan. Reuters could not verify the footage.

Meanwhile, a group of 140 Iranian eye doctors issued a statement warning that birdshot and paintball bullets used by security forces were blinding many protesters in one or both eyes, according to the reformist news website Sobhema and social media postings.

Amnesty International has said Iran’s security forces have been using unlawful force, including live ammunition and birdshot, killing dozens of people. Iranian authorities have blamed some shootings on unidentified dissidents.

The activist news agency HRANA said that as of Friday 448 protesters have been killed, including 63 children. It said 57 members of the security forces have also been killed, and an estimated 18,170 people arrested.

Authorities have not provided a death toll for protesters, but a senior official on Thursday said 50 police had been killed in the unrest.

Iran’s hardline judiciary has sentenced at least six protesters to death and thousands have been indicted for their role in the unrest, according to officials.

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