Tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to rally in support of the Iranian government, after six days of anti-establishment nationwide protests in which at least 22 people were killed.
The protests on Wednesday came hours before General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), declared the unrest as over.
“Today we can announce the end of the sedition,” Jafari said, quoted on the Guards’ website.
“A large number of the trouble-makers at the centre of the sedition, who received training from counter-revolutionaries … have been arrested and there will be firm action against them,” he added.
State media had previously reported the arrests of at least 530 people: 450 in Iran’s capital, Tehran, and 80 in the central city of Arak.
Earlier on Wednesday, pro-government demonstrators gathered in at least 10 cities, including Tehran, to condemn the rallies that put Iran in turmoil for almost a week, according to state media.
TV pictures showed people carrying banners in support of the government and shouting slogans against the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The footage of the pro-government rallies by state media was in broad contrast to the coverage of the past week’s demonstrations against Iran’s leadership.
Those protests started in the city of Mashhad on December 28 before spreading to other cities.
Participants initially protested against rising prices, long-standing unemployment and economic inequality, but their grievances quickly turned political, in the biggest display of public dissent since pro-reform rallies swept the country in 2009.
Iran restricted access to Instagram and Telegram social media apps as a security measure during the anti-government rallies, according to state TV.
On Tuesday, in his first public remarks since the rallies erupted, Iran’s Supreme LeaderAyatollah Ali Khamenei blamed external “enemies” for the turmoil.
Khamenei said that powers against Iran 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.
US President Donald Trump called the Iranian government “oppressive”, in a series of tweets, and warned it to respect the people’s right to protest.
“Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever. The world is watching!” he said in a tweet last week.
“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” he said in another on Tuesday.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have been particularly tense since Trump decertified the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Under Trump’s administration, the two sides have also been clashing on a number of foreign policy issues.