Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani broke his silence Sunday on the widespread protests in the Islamic Republic while blasting President Donald Trump for his tweets on the unrest.
Rouhani said in a speech Sunday night — his first since the protests began Thursday — that people have the right to demonstrate, but those demonstrations should not make the public “feel concerned about their lives and security.”
The Iranian president also criticized Trump over his tweets on the protests, saying he “has forgotten that he had called Iranian people `terrorists’ a few months ago,” the Associated Press reported.
Trump had weighed in earlier in the day, saying Iranians were “finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.
“Looks like they will not take it any longer,” Trump said. “The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
Rouhani’s comments came hours after two protesters were killed at a rally.
The deaths were the first of the demonstrations, which appear to be the largest to strike Iran since the protests that followed the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.
“On Saturday evening, there was an illegal protest in Dorud and a number of people took to the streets responding to calls from hostile groups, leading to clashes,” said Habibollah Khojastehpour, the deputy governor of the western Lorestan province, according to Sky News. “Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from Dorud were killed.”
Khojastehpour told state television that “no shots were fired by the police and security forces” and “foreign agents” and “enemies of the revolutions” were to blame.
A Revolutionary Guards Telegram channel blamed the deaths on “people armed with hunting and military weapons” who “entered the protests and started shooting randomly toward the crowd and the governor’s building,” according to Sky News, adding that six people also were wounded.
Videos circulating on social media late Saturday appeared to show fallen protesters in Doroud as gunshots sounded in the background, although the footage could not be independently confirmed.
The killings came as interior minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli warned Iranians about participating in the protests.
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price,” Sky News quoted Fazli as saying early Sunday on state television.
The CEO of the popular messaging app Telegram, which protesters have used to plan and publicize demonstrations, according to the Associated Press, said Sunday that Iran has been “blocking access… for the majority of Iranians.” Iranians said the app is now inaccessible by mobile phone networks.
State TV also said Instagram use has been “temporarily limited.”
Thousands have taken to the streets of cities across Iran, beginning on Thursday in Mashhad, the country’s second-largest city and a holy site for Shiite pilgrims.
The protests have also spread to Iran’s capital of Tehran, where 200 people were taken into custody Saturday, according to an Iranian news agency report quoting Ali Asghar Nasserbakht, a security deputy governor of Tehran.
Nasserbakht claimed police arrested those who were planning on rioting and destroying public property. He said that around 40 leaders were arrested.
In the city of Arak, some 173 miles south of Tehran, authorities have arrested some 80 protesters, the ILNA news agency reported.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of government supporters also marched in cities to show their support for the regime, Sky News reported.
Iran’s economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.
That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.
While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.
Some analysts outside of Iran have suggested that may be because the economic protests initially just put pressure on the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate whose administration struck the nuclear deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.