Donald Trump
Donald TrumpReuters

President Donald Trump declared that the time has come for change in Tehran, backing anti-government protesters as the death toll rose to at least 12 on Monday.

The wave of popular protests – the largest since Iran’s heavily-contested 2009 elections – began in the city of Mashhad last Thursday.

Protesters, frustrated with persistently high unemployment and high prices for consumer goods despite promises of reform by President Hassan Rouhani, castigated the Iranian leader and appeared to criticize the Tehran regime’s funding of Islamic terror groups abroad.

Videos on Nazar's Telegram channel showed people in Mashhad, an important religious center in the northeast of Iran, chanting "Death to Rouhani".

They also showed chants of "Death to the dictator" and "Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran", a reference to anger in some circles that the government is focusing on the wider region rather than improving conditions at home.

Iranian security forces, including officers of the Revolutionary Guard, shot and killed at least three demonstrators over the weekend, the first fatalities since the popular uprising began.

By Monday morning, the death toll had risen to at least 12, according to a report by The Associated Press, which confirmed only 2 of the 3 deaths reported Saturday night. At least 10 people were reportedly killed in clashes Sunday night.

Since then, President Trump has repeated expressed vocal support for the protests, denouncing the Iranian regime as corrupt and warning that the US would be monitoring the situation for any human rights abuses.

“Big protests in Iran,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

Iranian President Rouhani pushed back on Trump’s criticism of the Tehran regime, saying Trump had “no right to feel pity” for Iran’s people.

"This man who today in America wants to sympathize with our people has forgotten that a few months ago he called the nation of Iran terrorist," Rouhani told a cabinet meeting, according to the AFP news agency.

"This person whose whole being is against the nation of Iran has no right to feel pity for the people of Iran," he added.

On Monday, President Trump hit the Iranian government again, accusing it of ‘looting’ Iran’s wealth. Trump also criticized his predecessor over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and said the time had come for “change” in the Islamic republic.

“Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”