Trump denounces 'brutal and corrupt' Iranian regime

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So far, Tehran has not offered any evidence to support that claim, though Iran's opponents throughout the Middle East and elsewhere are looking on at the demonstrations with hope they'll force changes in its theocratic government.

Economic hardship has worsened despite the lifting of sanctions against the Iranian government in 2015 by the Obama administration. "The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!" Public criticism of Khamenei is generally taboo.

The protests apparently were triggered by a surge in prices of basic food supplies, which also had contributed to early Arab Spring protests six years ago. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long a hawk on Iran, also has been applauding the protests. At least 21 people have been killed. The demonstrations appear to have caught Iran's leadership off guard.

Analysts have suggested hardliners in Mashhad organized the protests against their rival Rouhani, but that the protests then unexpectedly spread into a backlash against the entire regime. "Leave the country alone"; protesters are also seen tearing down a poster of the supreme leader.

Despite a billion dollars released to Iran by the United States, inflation is worsening and unemployment remains high among young people. The shah, stricken with cancer, abandoned the throne just before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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The tense situation at Tehran University will be a litmus test for the strength of the protest movement and of the regime's ability to contain, suffocate, or crush the protests.

USA officials said Iran appeared to be using local police, the Basij militia and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to crack down on protests, much as it did in 2009 to crush the last major bout of unrest. None of the peaceful protests in Iran this past week appear to have received that permission.

Officials and state media made a point on Saturday of saying Iranians have the right to protest and have their voices heard on social issues.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday acknowledged the grievances of protesters nationwide but called on them to refrain from violence after a night of escalating unrest saw attacks on government buildings and confrontations with police.

Some of the new protests have specifically denounced the regime's extensive corruption and its costly involvement in regional conflicts, such as those in Syria and Iraq.

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They also denounced Iran's theocratic leaders: "The people are begging".

"That means it's not entirely clear what it means politically inside Iran, it's unpredictable".

Fortunately, in recent days, demonstrations have erupted across Iran, in opposition to widespread repression and economic problems.

On Tuesday he described the regime as "brutal and corrupt", ignoring warnings that US involvement could make it easier for the regime to blame outsiders for the unrest. But the protests might soon be quelled, dissolve into competing camps led by rival leaders, or be hijacked by hostile anti-Western forces, as numerous Arab Spring revolts were hijacked.

"We warn the USA against attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran", Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state news agency Tass.

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When asked how tougher US sanctions would affect a wave of anti-government protests in Iran, Pence said present penalties against the Islamist regime were emboldening the people with courage to step forward.