TEHERAN • Iran's Revolutionary Guards yesterday said the unrest that had rocked Iran over several days was at an end, and that up to 15,000 people had taken part nationwide.
Thousands gathered across Iran in a show of strength for the regime after days of deadly unrest, with state television showing vast crowds marching through several cities. Chants of "leader, we are ready" were heard as images showed thousands rallying in the cities of Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Gorgan and elsewhere in the country.
The demonstrators waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as placards saying "death to seditionists".
"Today we can announce the end of the sedition," said the Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari.
"There were a maximum of 1,500 people in each place and the number of troublemakers did not exceed 15,000 people nationwide," he said 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."
Mr Jafari said the Guards, a parallel security force directly loyal to Mr Khamenei, only intervened "in a limited way" in the provinces of Isfahan, Lorestan and Hamedan.
The protests, which began over economic problems, broke out in second city Mashhad on Dec 28 and quickly spread across the country, turning against the regime as a whole.
A total of 21 people have died in the unrest, with protesters attacking government buildings and police stations in some areas.
"The counter-revolutionaries intervened massively on social media," Mr Jafari said.
He said thousands were based abroad and trained by the United States, while internal "monarchists" and supporters of the exiled People's Mujahideen opposition group were also involved.
"The lack of action" by Iranian officials to shut down online supporters of the unrest had "reinforced the troubles", he said.
There were few reports of anti-regime protests overnight after the political establishment closed ranks against the unrest since last week.
The US exerted pressure on the Islamic republic, with its UN ambassador, Ms Nikki Haley, calling for emergency talks to discuss the situation. "The people of Iran are crying out for freedom," she said at a news conference. "All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause."
Iran's leaders say the protests are part of a foreign plot to destabilise the regime.
"The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime," Mr Khamenei said. "The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation."
Even reformists, who backed the last major protest movement against alleged election-rigging in 2009, condemned the violence and the support it has received from the US. But they also urged the authorities to address the economic grievances that have fuelled the protests.
"Officials must acknowledge the deplorable situation of the country as the first step to hearing the protesters," tweeted Mr Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, whose father, Mehdi Karroubi, has been under house arrest for almost seven years for helping lead the 2009 demonstrations.
On the streets of the capital, Teheran, there is widespread sympathy with the economic grievances driving the unrest, particularly an unemployment rate as high as 40 per cent for young people.
"The poorer section of society is really under pressure," said pharmacist Sakineh Eidi, 37.
Others rejected the official line that foreign powers were behind the unrest.
"I don't agree. People have reached a stage where they can no longer tolerate this pressure from the authorities. They have burst and are now out in the streets," said Ms Soraya Saadaat, a 54-year-old unemployed woman.