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Khamenei Says Iran Will Protect 'Oppressed People'

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Tehran will help oppressed people in the region as much as it can.

Quoted by the state news agency IRNA on May 16, Khamenei said that "Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine are oppressed," and that Iran would "protect oppressed people as much as we can."

Commentators say Persian Gulf Arab leaders are likely to interpret his comments as further evidence that Iran is bent on expanding its influence in the region.

Gulf Arab leaders met on May 14 with U.S. President Barack Obama, who reassured them that Washington would protect them against external threats, including "destabilizing activities" by Iran.

Earlier on May 16, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said characterizing Iran as a regional threat was both a "ridiculous allegation," and a "contradiction of the facts."

The spokeswoman said Saudi Arabia was destabilizing the region by bombing Huthi rebels -- allegedly backed by Tehran -- who have overrun much of Yemen.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters