Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi paid a visit Wednesday to a university and praised students for their welcome despite the "atmosphere of riots" after nearly three months of protests.
The Islamic republic has been rocked by protests — referred to by officials as "riots" — since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country's dress code for women.
"I thank the dear and insightful students who did not allow the atmosphere of the university to become an atmosphere of riots," Raisi said at Tehran University.
"Those who are brutally and unjustly killing our loved ones are rioters," he said. "Our people and the student community understand the difference between protests and riots."
The Iranian president was visiting the university to mark the annual Students' Day, which marks the 1953 killing by the shah's security forces of three students.
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Students have been at the forefront of the protests that erupted across Iran after the death of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin.
The country's Supreme National Security Council said on Saturday that more than 200 people have been killed in the unrest. Rights groups based abroad say more than 400 protesters have been killed by the security forces.
Iran has accused its arch foe the United States and its allies, including Britain and Israel, of fomenting the unrest.
"The Americans are seeking destruction" and wanted to weaken Iran, Raisi said.
"They want Iran to become another Syria and Afghanistan, but they have miscalculated."
Raisi hit out at the sanctions that Washington has imposed on Tehran since former US president Donald Trump's decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
He said they had targeted ordinary Iranians by depriving them of life-saving medicines.