ANKARA - Turkey said on Wednesday President Hassan Rouhani's response to days of protests across Iran against poverty was appropriate and that Ankara valued Iranian stability, in one of the first regional expressions of support for Tehran.
A source in Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's office said he discussed the week-long unrest in Iran during a telephone call with Rouhani. The Iranian president told Erdogan he hoped the protests would be over "in a few days", the source said.
Erdogan's sympathetic comments follow an improvement in relations between Ankara and Tehran, which have worked together in recent months to reduce violence in Syria, despite backing opposing sides in the conflict for several years.
Rouhani said on Sunday Iranians had the right to protest and criticise the authorities but their actions should not lead to violence or damage public property.
Erdogan told Rouhani "that he found his comments about not violating the law while exercising their right to peaceful protests was appropriate", the source said.
Erdogan’s comments came after nearly a week of protests in Iran marked by deadly violence and hundreds of arrests.
Anti-regime protests began in Iran's second largest city Mashhad and quickly spread to become the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime since mass demonstrations in 2009.
Some of this week's protests were directed against financial scandals linked to unauthorised lending institutions which collapsed with the loss of hundreds of thousands of accounts.
Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but high living costs and a 12 percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
The young are most affected, with as many as 40 percent out of work according to analysts, and rural areas particularly hard-hit.
"The country is facing serious challenges with unemployment, high prices, corruption, lack of water, social gap, unbalanced distribution of budget," wrote Hesamoddin Ashena, cultural adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, on Twitter.
Turkey's ties with Iran expanded last year as Ankara's relations with the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - Tehran's main international opponents - all frayed.
Secular but overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey shares a border with mainly Shiite Muslim Iran. They are the two biggest non-Arab powers in the Middle East region.
In August Iran's military chief of staff visited Turkey, which is a member of the NATO military alliance, for talks on cooperation in the Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism.
"Iran's stability is important for us. We are against foreign interventions in Iran," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, in remarks quoted by television channel NTV.
"If the leadership is to change in Iran, the Iranian people will do this," he said.
Broadcaster CNN Turk said Cavusoglu also echoed Rouhani's suggestion that the United States and Israel had provoked unrest.
"There are two people supporting the demonstrations in Iran: (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and (U.S. President Donald) Trump," it quoted Cavusoglu as saying.
Netanyahu has praised Iranian anti-government protesters, while denying as "laughable" accusations that Israel was behind the demonstrations. Trump has tweeted that Iranians are "finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime".