DUBAI, Nov 14 — Iran’s clerical rulers faced mounting international pressure today 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 the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16 after her arrest for “inappropriate attire” mark one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution that brought the clerics to power.

“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.

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, Iranian activist news agency HRANA said.

A video shared by HRANA today 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 at Evin prison.

Judiciary news agency Mizan said “Ronaghi will soon be discharged from his hospital and his health is fine”. It said all claims that his legs were broken are false.

Iran’s judiciary yesterday said one person had been sentenced to death for “waging war against God”, which is punishable by death in Iran, for setting fire to a government building during “riots”. It said he could appeal the verdict. — Reuters