SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS
Iran's supreme leader has blamed external "enemies" for heightening turmoil in the country, as the death toll in ongoing nationwide anti-government rallies has passed 20.
The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority, came on Tuesday hours before the US said that it would seek emergency United Nations talks on the protests in the Islamic republic.
At least eight people were killed on Monday night, according to state media, taking the number of people killed since the demonstrations began on December 28 to at least 22.
In his first public remarks since the rallies began, Khamenei said that "enemies" of Iranhave allied and used the various means they have available, including "money, weapons, politics, and intelligence services", to stir unrest.
"The dignity, security, and progress of the Iranian nation are owed to the self-sacrifice of the martyrs. What prevents enemies from exerting their atrocities is the spirit of courage, sacrifice, and faith within the nation," he said in a statement posted on his official website.
"I have something to say on these events, and I will speak to the dear people when the time is right.
"The Iranian nation will forever owe the dear martyrs, who left behind their homes and families, to stand against the wicked enemies."
US President Donald Trump, who has used Twitter to criticise Tehran since the rallies erupted, hailed the protesters for acting against the "brutal and corrupt" regime and said Iranians had "little food, big inflation and no human rights".
Iran's foreign ministry hit back, saying the US president was "wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets" and would be better off focusing on "homeless and hungry people" in his own country.
Later on Tuesday, Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the UN, said the US would seek an emergency session of the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council to discuss Iran.
"The people of Iran are crying out for freedom," she told reporters. "All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause."