FILE PHOTO: A cleric, member of Parliament (MP), shakes his fist as he chants anti-US/UK slogans during a debate in regime's parliament. REUTERS

Iranian lawmakers chanted “thank you, police” during a parliament session on Sunday, in a show of support for a fierce crackdown on widespread anti-government protests against the death of a young woman in police custody.

The protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini from Iranian Kurdistan, have spiralled into the biggest show of opposition to Iran‘s authorities in years, with many calling for the end of more than four decades of Islamic clerical rule.

Pledging allegiance to the Islamic Republic’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the lawmakers chanted: “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader”, a video shared on Iranian state media showed.

At least 52 people have died in the crackdown, according to a tally by rights group Amnesty International. Iranian authorities say many members of the security forces have been killed by “rioters and thugs backed by foreign foes”.

Khamenei has not commented on the protests, which began at Amini’s funeral on Sept. 17 and quickly spread to Iran‘s 31 provinces, with all layers of society, including ethnic and religious minorities, taking part.

Several prominent soccer players who are stars in Iran and around Asia, including the former captain of Iran‘s national team, Ali Daei, have criticised the repression of protesters. Some social media posts suggested that Daei has been banned from leaving Iran. Reuters could not confirm the report.

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The protests have not abated despite the growing death toll and the crackdown by security forces using tear gas, clubs, and in some cases, according to videos on social media and rights groups, live ammunition.

Videos on social media showed demonstrations in several cities such as Kermanshah, Shiraz and Mashhad on Sunday, with participants chanting “independence, freedom, death to Khamenei”.

Activist Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has more than 160,000 followers, posted a video of protesters in the central city of Isfahan calling for a nationwide strike and setting up a road block to bring truck drivers to their ranks. Reuters could not verify the videos.

Iranian state media shared a video of pro-government students, who gathered at the Ferdowsi university in Mashhad, chanting “the Islamic Republic is our red line”.

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Amini was arrested on Sept. 13 in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. She died three days later in hospital after falling into a coma.

The lawyer for Amini’s family, Saleh Nikbakht, told the semi-official Etemadonline news website that “respectable doctors” believe she was hit in custody. Amini’s autopsy report and other medical details have not been released, but her father said he saw bruises on her leg and that other women detained with her said she was beaten.

Iran‘s police authorities say Amini died of a heart attack and deny she was beaten to death in custody.

The country’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered an investigation into Amini’s death. He said last week that a forensic report would be presented in “coming days”.

Amnesty International on Friday reported 52 people killed in the protests, with hundreds injured and thousands arrested. Iranian state media said last week, 41 people, including security forces, had been killed.

Amini’s death and the crackdown have drawn international criticism of Iran‘s rulers, who in turn accuse the United States and some European countries of exploiting the unrest to try to destabilise the Islamic Republic.

Iran said last week it had arrested nine people from Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries for their role in the protests.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Frank Jack Daniel)

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(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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