Thousands of people came out on streets across Iran for two days to protest against growing economic crisis and corruption, showing their anger against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani's repressive regime. Iranian police arrested dozens of protesters leading to a strongly condemnation by the United States.
Starting Thursday in Mashhad, Iran's second-most populous city, the protests against rising prices, corruption and unemployment soon spread to at least 20 cities, continuing until Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The protests are being seen as the largest wave of demonstrations since nationwide pro-reform unrest in 2009.
The demonstrations reached even the city of Qom, which is seen as the heartland of the clerics, according to The Times.
Youth unemployment in Iran currently stands at 40 percent, and people are angry about a huge government spending on the military and the war in Syria.
The opposition to the country's theocratic system is also growing, National Review noted. Protesters chanted, "We don't want an Islamic Republic" and "Death to Rouhani."
Public gatherings without permission from the government are banned in Iran.
At least 52 protesters were arrested in Mashhad, and security forces beat a crowd of demonstrators with batons in the western city of Kermanshah. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested also in Tehran and Kermanshah.
Hardline cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda had called for a crackdown. "If the security and law enforcement agencies leave the rioters to themselves, enemies will publish films and pictures in their media and say that the Islamic Republic system has lost its revolutionary base in Mashhad," he was quoted as saying.
Condemning the crackdown on protests, the United States urged "all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption," the U.S. State Department said in a statement released Friday night.
"There are many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. "The Iranian government should respect their people's rights, including their right to express themselves. The world is watching."
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter Friday night: "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian gov't should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests."
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday criticized Iran over its treatment of Christians.
"A few days ago, Iran's foreign minister tweeted: 'A very happy and peaceful Christmas to all.' I wonder what the Christians jailed this month in Iran would think about that tweet," Netanyahu said in a video posted to YouTube, according to The Times of Israel. "I wonder what Iranian youth would think about that tweet, but sadly the Iranian regime bans Twitter. Except, of course, if you're a high-ranking official."
Four Iranian Christian converts were arrested before Christmas, and the homes of six other Christian converts were also raided.
"Imagine praying quietly in your home, surrounded by your family, and all of a sudden armed thugs burst in and drag you away to prison," said Netanyahu in reference to the arrests. "They torture you merely for practicing your Christian faith."
"Welcome to Iran," he added. "Saying 'Merry Christmas' while jailing Christians in your own country is the height of hypocrisy."