(Bloomberg) --  

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Iran’s Supreme Leader said protests currently gripping the country were “planned riots” designed by the US and Israel, voicing solidarity with his security forces a day after they besieged scores of students on a university campus in Tehran.

In his first comments addressing the protests, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who fell into a coma while being detained by “morality police” for allegedly flouting strict Islamic dress codes, was “heart-wrenching” but the response of protesters was “not normal” and the security forces had been “wronged.”

Amini’s death on Sept. 16 triggered an outpouring of anger that has grown into broad nationwide protests against the Islamic Republic at a time of record inflation and as negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal founder. The state’s harsh response to the protests has drawn criticism from the international community, including the European Union, which is mediating between Tehran and Washington in the nuclear talks. 

Security forces have cracked down heavily on dissent, using tear gas, paint guns, shotguns, Tasers and water cannon against demonstrators, many of whom are young women and men, leading calls for an end to laws that are seen to heavily curtail civil liberties and human rights. 

The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights said on Sunday that 133 people have been killed by security forces so far, including 41 in the southeast province of Sistan-Baluchestan during an attack on Friday prayers on Sept. 30. Iran’s government hasn’t given a death toll for the unrest since Sept. 24, when it said 41 people had been killed.

University Protests

The latest major standoff between protesters, militias and police, started on Sunday afternoon when a large number of students held sit-ins and protests outside the computer engineering faculty of the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, according to an account published by the Islamic Association of Students of Sharif University, on Twitter and Telegram. 

The association said more than 30 students were arrested and Oct. 2 would go down as a “bloody day” for the university.

University campuses were a critical driver of the 1979 revolution and students formed a core part of opposition groups that toppled the Shah of Iran. The Islamic Republic has always heavily controlled and suppressed political activity at universities.

The protests at Sharif were part of broad demonstrations across university campuses on Sunday, including in Kerman and Esfahan. Unconfirmed reports on social media show demonstrations continuing on some campuses on Monday morning, in support of the Sharif students.

Mobile phone footage shared on social media shows plainclothes Islamic militias -- known as Basij -- and armed police attacking students with clubs and firing tear gas, with gunfire heard in some clips. The association said police fired paintball guns and shotgun pellets at the students.

Video circulated widely on Twitter late on Sunday showed a large group of student protesters being chased through the university’s underground parking, running to find cover from security forces mounted on motorbikes and firing guns into the air. None of the video can be verified by Bloomberg.

According to the student association, the students had gone into the parking lot after a number of professors attending the rally reached an agreement with police to allow them safe passage to their dormitories. The students instead found themselves being chased by security forces who were waiting for them inside the parking lot. 

The Islamic Association of Students of Sharif University has called for a strike by students and teachers and for the suspension of all teaching in solidarity with the protesters. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said classes will be taught online until further notice.  

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