United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Friday told Iran that the world was watching Tehran’s response to the anti-government protests in the country, AFP reported.

“The Iranian regime is now on notice: the world will be watching what you do,” Haley said at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. “The Iranian people are rising up in over 79 locations throughout the country,” Haley said. “It is a powerful exhibition of brave people who have become so fed up with their oppressive government that they are willing to risk their lives in protest.”

Nearly 20 people have died during the anti-government protests that began on December 28 in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, over the condition of the economy and food inflation. The unrest then spread to other cities and towns across the country, turning into the largest protests since the disputed presidential elections in 2009.

Hundreds of anti-government protestors have been arrested, and a prominent judge has warned that a few of them could face the death penalty.

They appear to be particularly angered by the country’s funding of wars in Arab countries, such as Yemen and Syria, as Iranian citizens slide towards poverty. In the city of Kerman, demonstrators chanted that the “People are living like beggars, the Leader is behaving like a God”, and in Khuzestan, protesters reportedly called out “death to Khamenei”, Iran’s supreme leader.

US faces criticism

The United States had called the meeting despite fierce criticism from Russia and other countries, according to Reuters.

France’s ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre said that the protests were not an international matter. “We must be wary of any attempts to exploit this crisis for personal ends, which would have the diametrically opposed outcome to that which is wished,” Ambassador Delattre said. “However worrying the events of the last few days in Iran may be, they do not constitute per se a threat to international peace and security.”

Iranian Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo told the United Nations Security Council that his government had proof that the protests were orchestrated from abroad. “It is unfortunate that despite resistance on the part of some of its members, this council has allowed itself to be abused by the current US administration in holding a meeting on an issue that falls outside the scope of its mandate,” he added.

Russia claimed that the United States was abusing its power as a permanent member and intended to use the protests to undermine the Iranian nuclear deal signed in 2015.

Discussing Iran’s situation at the council “does not help resolve the domestic issue of Iran,” said China’s Deputy United Nations Ambassador Wu Haitao.