Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded publicly to the biggest protests in Iran in years, breaking weeks of silence to condemn what he called “rioting”.

Anger over Amini's death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock the country in almost three years, which saw security forces in Tehran crack down on hundreds of university students overnight.
Anger over Amini's death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock the country in almost three years, which saw security forces in Tehran crack down on hundreds of university students overnight. (AFP)

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused arch-foes the United States and Israel of fomenting the wave of nationwide unrest sparked by outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini.

"I say clearly that these riots and the insecurity were engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime [Israel], as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad," the supreme leader said on Monday.

Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after the morality police detained her for allegedly breaching rules forcing women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.

Anger over Amini's death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock the country in almost three years, which saw security forces in Tehran crackdown on hundreds of university students overnight.

In his first public comments since Amini's death, 83-year-old Khamenei stressed that police must "stand up to criminals" and added that "whoever attacks the police leaves the people defenceless against criminals, thugs, thieves".

"The death of the young woman broke our hearts," said Khamenei. "But what is not normal is that some people, without proof or an investigation, have made the streets dangerous, burned the Quran, removed hijabs from veiled women and set fire to mosques and cars".

READ MORE: Iran ups pressure on celebrities, media over Mahsa Amini protests

Incredible courage

Concern grew about a crackdown overnight on students at Tehran's prestigious Sharif University of Technology where, local media reported, riot police carrying steel pellet guns used tear gas and paintball guns against hundreds of students.

"Woman, life, liberty" the students shouted, as well as "students prefer death to humiliation", Mehr news agency reported.

Iran's science minister, Mohammad Ali Zolfigol, came to speak to the students in a bid to calm the situation, the report said.

Protests were also reported at other universities, including in the central city of Isfahan, and unconfirmed reports by a student group on Twitter said dozens had been arrested in the capital.

Mehr news agency said that Sharif University of Technology had "announced that due to recent events and the need to protect students ... all classes will be held virtually from Monday."

READ MORE: Scores killed in Iran's Mahsa Amini protests – rights group

Violent protests

At least 92 protesters have been killed so far in the Mahsa Amini rallies, said IHR, which has been working to assess the death toll despite internet outages and blocks on WhatsApp, Instagram and other online services.

Amnesty International said earlier it had confirmed 53 deaths, after Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said last week that "around 60" people had died.

The chief of riot police in Marivan, Kurdistan province, died of his wounds Sunday after being shot during "riots", state television said – the 12th death reported among the security forces since September 16.

An additional 41 people died in clashes on Friday in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, IHR reported earlier, citing local sources.

Those protests were sparked by accusations a police chief in the region had raped a teenage girl of the Baloch Sunni minority, the rights group said.

Source: AFP