Iran's supreme leader has blamed external "enemies" for fueling turmoil in the country as the death toll in ongoing nationwide anti-government rallies has passed 20.

The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority, on Tuesday were his first public remarks since protests broke out last week.

At least eight people were killed overnight, according to state media, taking the number of people killed since the demonstrations began on December 28 to at least 22.

Khamenei said that "enemies" of Iran have allied and used the various means they have available including "money, weapons, politics, and intelligence services" to stir unrest.

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"The dignity, security, and progress of the Iranian nation is owed to the self-sacrifice of the martyrs. What prevents enemies from exerting their atrocities is the spirit of courage, sacrifice, and faith within the nation," he said in a statement posted on his official website.

"I have something to say on these events, and I will speak to the dear people when the time is right.

"The Iranian nation will forever owe the dear martyrs, who left behind their homes and families, to stand against the wicked enemies."

Despite threats by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to put down the demonstrations, protesters have continued taking to the streets in various parts of Iran, in what has been described as the biggest show of dissent in the country since huge rallies took place in 2009.

So far, at least 530 people - 450 in Iran's capital, Tehran and 80 in the central city of Arak - have been arrested, according to state media.


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