Italy watching Iranian protests 'very closely'

Italy watching Iranian protests 'very closely'

Italy is following Iran's escalating anti-government protests "very closely," foreign minister Angelino Alfano announced.

"We are following the protests in Iran very closely: both the actions of the demonstrators and the words of president (Hassan) Rohani," Alfano stated late on Monday.

"We expect the rights of citizens to demonstrate peacefully and to lawfully express themselves be upheld - without violence on the part of authorities or by protesters."

Officials say over 20 people including a child have been killed and hundreds arrested in Iran since the protests broke out on Thursday in its second largest city - Mashhad - and spread to the capital Tehran and several other provinces.

In his first speech since the unrest began, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday accused the country's enemies of fomenting the protests - the largest since the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Rouhani earlier said the protests were an "opportunity, not a threat", but vowed to crack down on "lawbreakers". The unrest was sparked by frustration at Iran’s sluggish economy but has broadened to include open defiance of Iran’s ruling clergy.