Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday blamed the U.S. for the widespread protests still erupting in Iran, casting his people's grief and anger as being fueled by a foreign plot meant to destabilize the Middle Eastern country.
Khamenei spoke to a crowd of police students in Tehran on Monday, saying he was "heartbroken" by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a woman who died while in police custody for violating the country's dress code.
But, Khamenei argued, the protests and rioting that swept Iran afterward "was planned."
"These riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees," the supreme leader told the crowd, according to The Associated Press.
Amini was detained by Iran's morality police last month because she had a loose hijab. Iran says she fainted in a police station and was later pronounced dead, but her family disputes that version of events and says she had bruises on her body.
Protests have continued to rock the nation, with thousands of demonstrators marching in anger across the country since Sept. 17.
Iran's parliamentary Speaker, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, warned on Sunday that the protests could destabilize the country, urging a harsher use of security forces in order to quell the movement.
The death toll in Iran reached at least 41 demonstrators and police have died in the protests, but the Associated Press has tallied around 14 dead and 1,500 arrested.
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