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Death toll jumps as Iran protests continue

Anti-government demonstrations met with force by authorities even as president defends people's right to protest.

Iran protests continue

At least 12 people have been killed in Iran, according to local news media reports, as anti-government demonstrations continued across the country for a fourth night.

Thousands have engaged in protests since the first rallies against the high cost of living on December 28, marking the biggest show of dissent in Iran since huge rallies took place in 2009.

State TV reported on Monday that 10 people were killed in several cities on Sunday, and showed footage of damage allegedly caused by protesters.

The report did not provide further details about the deaths.

Local media reports said that of those who died, six were killed in Twiserkan, in Hamedan province, and three others in Shahin Shahr, in Esfahan province.

Another person was killed in Izeh, while two others died in Dorud, in western Iran, late on Saturday.

Some 400 people have been arrested across Iran in the protests, state news agencies have reported.

Rouhani's first comments

On Sunday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said people in the country have the right to protest but warned that violence is unacceptable.

"It should be clear to everyone that we are people of freedom. According to the constitution and citizens' rights, people are free to express their criticism and to protest," Rouhani said in televised comments from Iran's capital, Tehran, on Sunday.

"However, we need to pay attention to the manner of that criticism and protest. It should be in such a way that it will lead to the improvement of the people and state.

"People have the right to protest, but those demonstrations should not make the public feel concerned about their lives and security."

Iranians began protesting in the second-largest city of Mashhad, railing at the ruling religious elite, whom they blame for economic hardships and alleged corruption.

The rallies have since gained momentum and spread to other cities, including Tehran.

Several videos posted on social media have shown protesters calling for the fall of Rouhani's government.

US watching 'very closely'

US President Donald Trump has been quick to respond to the protests, saying Washington is "watching very closely for human rights violations".

"The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism," he said on Twitter on December 31.

Rouhani has since hit back at Trump, accusing him of having "forgotten that he has called the Iranian people 'terrorists' a few months ago", on Sunday.

Canada has also commented on the demonstrations, with the country's ministry of foreign affairs saying it was "closely monitoring" the protests, and calling "on the Iranian authorities to uphold and respect democratic and human rights".

"Canada is encouraged by the Iranian people who are exercising their basic right to protest peacefully," the ministry said in a short statement on December 31.

"Canada will continue to support the fundamental rights of Iranians, including the right to freedom of expression."

A spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry has condemned Canada's response as "interventionist", saying it violated the country's international commitments.

"[It is] devoid of any legal justifications," Bahram Qasemi said, according to Iran's official state news agency, IRNA.

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