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DUBAI: Iran’s clerical rulers faced mounting international pressure on Monday over their crackdown on protests, with France’s president characterising the unrest as a revolution and European governments planning sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards.

The nationwide protests, ignited by Mahsa Amini’s death in morality police custody on Sept. 16 after her arrest for “inappropriate attire”, have turned into a legitimacy crisis for the four-decade-old Islamic Republic.

“Something unprecedented is happening,” France’s Emmanuel Macron told France Inter radio. “The grandchildren of the revolution are carrying out a revolution and are devouring it.”

Macron said the crackdown by Iranian leaders would make it harder to reach agreement on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which would give Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

“This revolution changes many things,” Macron said. “I don’t think there will be new proposals which can be made right now to save the nuclear deal.”

Speaking after he met four Iranian women activists in Paris over the weekend, Macron said that more European Union sanctions would be adopted in reaction to Tehran’s actions.

Women and students have played a leading role calling for the downfall of Islamist rule under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in defiance of a tough crackdown by security forces.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman criticised Macron on Saturday after he met the activists, calling his stance “shameful” and a violation of France’s responsibilities in the fight against terrorism.

‘CLEAR SIGNAL’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday new European sanctions would include targeted measures at “the inner circle” of the Revolutionary Guard - the main paramilitary force in charge of protecting the Shi’ite clerical ruling system - and financing structures.

“We will pass a new sanctions package to send a clear signal to those responsible who think they can oppress, intimidate and kill their own people without consequences,” she said before a meeting with other EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The activist news agency HRANA said 341 protesters had been killed in the unrest, including 52 minors.

It said 39 members of the security forces were killed and more than 15,820 people had been arrested as of Sunday in protests around 140 cities and towns and 138 universities.

Iranian leaders, who have blamed foreign enemies including the United States for what they call riots, are battling protests bringing together all layers of society, from lawyers to shopkeepers to actors and athletes.

Eight weeks after the demonstrations erupted, students organised a sit-in at Sharif University in Tehran to protest against the arrest of fellow students and in support of the protest movement, HRANA said.

A video shared by HRANA on Monday also showed students gathered at the University of Medical Sciences in the city of Qazvin, shouting slogans supportive of activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.

He was transferred to a Tehran hospital on Sunday from Evin prison, where he has been held since his arrest in September. His brother said on Twitter Ronaghi had been on hunger strike for over 50 days and both his legs were broken in prison.

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