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Iran leader hails force tasked with quelling protests

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BAGHDAD — Iran’s supreme leader praised paramilitary volunteers tasked with crushing dissent in a televised speech on Saturday as dozens of ophthalmologists warned a growing number of protesters had been blinded by forces security during anti-government demonstrations.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses members of the Basij, the volunteer paramilitary wing of the elite Revolutionary Guards, and reiterates unsubstantiated claims that protesters demonstrating across the country are ‘tools’ of the United States and its “mercenaries”.

“(The) Basij must not forget that the main clash is with global arrogance, or the United States,” Khamenei said in speech marking Basij week in Iran, echoing previous statements lambasting protests as a foreign plot to destabilize Iran.

Praising the Basij’s military and social virtues over the decades, Khamenei said the forces “sacrificed themselves to save people from a group of rioters and mercenaries”, referring to recent unrest across the country. “They sacrificed themselves to confront oppression.”

The Basij played a leading role in suppressing protests that began on September 17, sparked by the death of a young woman while in the custody of Iranian vice police. His death sparked months of protests against the country’s compulsory headscarf, but quickly turned into one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the chaotic years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Protests continued on Saturday at some universities in the capital Tehran and other cities, according to social media. Due to a harsh nationwide crackdown by Iranian security forces, the protests have become more dispersed. Protesters have also called for trade strikes.

Khamenei’s comments came a day after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with a group of Basij members and praised their efforts to maintain security, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Iran’s fierce crackdown on dissent has drawn criticism, with at least 448 people killed and more than 18,000 arrested during protests and the violent response by security forces that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring protests. Iran has not offered a toll or number of those arrested.

In a letter, 140 ophthalmologists raised concerns about the growing number of patients suffering serious eye damage resulting from being hit by metal pellets and rubber bullets, according to pro-reform Iranian news site Sobhema. and Iran International as well as other social media sites. “Unfortunately, in many cases the blow caused the loss of sight in one or both eyes,” reads the letter addressed to the head of the country’s association of ophthalmologists.

The doctors asked the head of the Iranian Ophthalmology Association to convey their concerns about the irreparable damage caused by the security forces to the competent authorities.

It was the second letter from ophthalmologists expressing concern about police brutality and the firing of pellets and rubber bullets into the eyes of protesters and others. A previous letter was signed by more than 200 ophthalmologists.

Last week, videos circulated on social media of law student Ghazal Ranjkesh in the southern town of Banda Abbas who lost her eye after being hit by a metal bullet on her way home from work.

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