Iran must deal decisively with protests which have swept the country after the death in custody of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic's morality police, President Ebrahim Raisi said today.
At least 35 people have been killed in the week-long demonstrations, according to Iran's state television, with protests spreading to most of the country's 31 provinces.
Angry demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Tehran, for eight straight nights since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
The Kurdish woman was pronounced dead after spending three days in a coma following her arrest by Iran's feared morality police for wearing the hijab headscarf in an "improper" way.
Yesterday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront "the enemies" behind the unrest.
State media quoted Mr Raisi today as saying Iran must "deal decisively with those who oppose the country's security and tranquility".
Mr Raisi was speaking by telephone to the family of a member of the Basij volunteer force killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
The president "stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security, and called the events ... a riot," state media reported.
Protests were held around the Islamic republic yesterday, with online videos showing some turning violent in Tehran and other major cities including Tabriz.
In some of the footage online, security forces could be seen firing what appeared to be live ammunition at unarmed demonstrators in the northwestern cities of Piranshahr, Mahabad and Urmia.
Iranian police in just one province have arrested over 700 people during the protests following Ms Amini's death, according to reports.
In one video shared by the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights non-governmental organisation, a uniformed member of the security forces is seen shooting an AK-47 assault rifle at protesters in Tehran's Ferdowsi Boulevard.
It said other footage showed a "stream of state security forces... on a Tehran highway" last night.
Security forces have carried out a wave of arrests of activists and journalists, including Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported on Ms Amini's death.
Amnesty International warned late yesterday of "the risk of further bloodshed amid a deliberately imposed internet blackout".
The London-based human rights group said evidence it gathered from 20 cities across Iran pointed to "a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces deliberately and unlawfully firing live ammunition at protesters".
In its statement, Amnesty said security forces had shot dead at least 19 people on Wednesday night alone, including at least three children.
Thousands of people marched through Tehran during a pro-hijab rally yesterday, paying tribute to security forces who have moved to quell a week of protests by what media called "conspirators".
Demonstrations in support of the security forces also took place in several cities across the country including Ahvaz, Isfahan, Qom and Tabriz.
Ms Amini died following her arrest by Iran's morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic republic's strict dress code for women.
Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.
Iranian women have burnt their headscarves and symbolically cut their hair in protest at the strict dress code, echoed in solidarity demonstrations from New York to Istanbul and Brussels to Santiago, Chile.
Last night, Iran's Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi insisted Ms Amini had not been beaten.
"Reports from oversight bodies were received, witnesses were interviewed, videos were reviewed, forensic opinions were obtained and it was found that there had been no beating," Mr Vahidi said.
The minister said Iran was investigating the cause of Ms Amini's death, adding "we must wait for the final opinion of the medical examiner, which takes time".
Amnesty International dismissed Iran's investigation and called on the world to take "meaningful action" against the bloody crackdown.
"UN member states must go beyond toothless statements, hear the cries for justice from victims and human rights defenders in Iran and urgently set up an independent UN investigative mechanism," said Heba Morayef, its director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran has imposed tough restrictions on the use of the internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world.
The United States announced yesterday it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand internet services.
The new measures would "help counter the Iranian government's efforts to surveil and censor its citizens," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.