Iranian students clash with riot police during an anti-government protest around the University of Tehran, Iran. Photo by STR/EPA
Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Iran's Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei blamed enemies for hurting the country as protests entered a sixth day.
"During the events of the past several days, Iran's enemies, using the various tools at their disposal, including money, weapons, politics and security apparatus, have allied to create problems for the Islamic establishment," Khamenei said Tuesday.
The leader cited "the spirit of courage, sacrifice and faith" of the Iranian people as an obstacle for the country's "enemies."
At least 21 people have died in nationwide protests and hundreds have been arrested, the largest demonstrations since the disputed 2009 presidential election.
The protests, which began in late December, began over economic issues and a jump in food prices and quickly expanded to several cities.
Six protesters were killed trying to enter a police station in Qahderijan and two were killed in Khomeinishahr. A member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was also killed in the town of Najafabad.
Arrested protesters could potentially face the death penalty if the charges include "Moharebeh," or waging war against God.
Iranian Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said Tuesday that protests would soon end, saying security forces "decisively countered the saboteurs" who resorted to violence.
"In most parts of the country, the situation is now normal and the unrest that took place in certain areas will soon end with the people's cooperation and the efforts of security forces," Zolfaghari said.
Government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said demonstrators would be dealt with legally -- noting Iran's constitution distinguishes between rioting and protesting.
"Even the rioters should be dealt with within the framework of law," Nobakht said.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday that the United States would be "watching" the protests.
"The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their "pockets." The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights," Trump tweeted. "The U.S. is watching!"
British leaders called for Iran to enter "meaningful debate" amid protests.
"We believe that there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Syria's foreign ministry is supporting the Iranian government.
"Syria is confident that Iran's leadership, government and people will be able to defeat the conspiracy," the Syrian ministry said in a statement.
The Iranian government limited access to the Internet and social media -- including apps like Telegram and Instagram, which were used to organize protests.