Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday praised a paramilitary group responsible for killing hundreds of protestors. Photo by Government of Iran/EPA-EFE
Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Iran's Supreme Leader on Saturday praised the paramilitary group responsible for killing hundreds of anti-government protestors in recent months.
In a meeting with the paramilitary group Basij in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described members of the popular protest movement as "rioters" and thugs" backed by foreign forces such as the United States.
"You defended the Haram [holy shrines in Syria] from the U.S.-manufactured Daesh," Khamenei said, referring to thousands of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basijis who have assisted the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Witnesses say the Basij forces have used live ammunition and heavy machine guns against protestors, killing hundreds and injuring thousands more. Many of the protestors have been detained and died under torture, regime opponents allege.
Some of harshest crackdowns have occurred in Iran's northwest, home to country's Kurdish minority. The Kurdish human rights group Hengaw claimed at least 42 people have been killed over the past week while protesting as a result of "direct fire from the Iranian government forces," NBC News reported.
The minority Sunni religious establishment in Iran, meanwhile, has come out in support of the protestors. Mawlana Abdul Hamid, the spiritual leader of the Sunnis in Iran, said Saturday the regime has reached "a dead-end."
"The biggest concern we have is that many officials were not prepared to hear our voices .. but they did not listen to anyone and the result is this dissatisfaction that exists in the country today," Hamid told his congregation in the Iranian city of Zahedan, according to the Kurdish news site Rudaw.
"The voice of the people shows that the policies of the past 43 years have reached a dead-end and they cannot rule this country with these policies, the solution is not imprisonment and killing of protesters," he added.
During Saturday's meeting, Khamenei also ruled out any negotiations on returning to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that reviving it would end Iran's influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other countries.
"Negotiation does not resolve our problem with the U.S.," he said, according to official government media. "True, one thing resolves our problem and that is to budge to America, not once but many times."