“Unfortunately, 26 people and police officers present at the scene of these events lost their lives,” he said, adding that official statistics would be released later.
Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters have killed at least 11 people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to independent tallies.
The demonstrations in Iran began as an emotional outpouring over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly enforced dress code. The police say she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.
Iran’s state-run media this week reported demonstrations of hundreds of people in at least 13 cities, including the capital, Tehran.
Iranian authorities imposed some restrictions on the internet and blocked access to WhatsApp and Instagram. There were also counter protests in Tehran and other cities.
Ms Amini’s death sparked sharp condemnation from the United Nations, and touched a national nerve.
Hundreds of Iranians from the capital, Tehran, to Ms Amini’s north-west Kurdish home town of Saqez, poured into the streets, voicing pent-up anger over social and political repression.
Authorities have alleged that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to foment unrest.
“The death has tapped into broader anti-government sentiment in the Islamic Republic and especially the frustration of women,” wrote political risk firm Eurasia Group, noting that Iran’s hardliners have intensified their crackdown on women’s clothing over the past year since former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi became president.
“In the cold calculus of Iranian leaders … a more forceful response is required to quell the unrest,” the group added.
Videos on social media show protesters in Tehran torching a police car and confronting officers at close range.
Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunfire sounding out as protesters bolt from riot police shouting: “They are shooting at people! Oh my God they’re killing people!”
In the north-west city of Neyshabur, protesters cheered over an overturned police car.
Footage from Tehran and Mashhad shows women waving their obligatory hijab head coverings in the air like flags while chanting “Freedom!”.
The scenes of women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs feed into a broader political debate over the role of religious strictures in a modern-day republic — questions that have plagued the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.
But the protests have also grown into an open challenge to the government. The chants have been scathing, with some calling for the downfall of the ruling clerics.
The protesters cry, “Death to the dictator!” and “Mullahs must be gone!”.