Tens of thousands of government supporters marched in rallies across Iran on Wednesday to denounce recent demonstrations against the regime's economic policies.

The state-organized demonstrations took place in numerous cities across Iran, including Qom _ a center for religious scholarship _ and in Ahvaz, the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan Province in the southwest.

Iranian men and women held posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian flags, while large groups of Shiite clerics took part in the holly city of Qom, as seen in images supplied to epa by journalists on the ground.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that the capital Tehran had returned to normal late Tuesday and no anti-government demonstrations had taken place.

Although riot police were deployed on the streets, pedestrians shopped normally.

Anti-government protests against rising prices and corruption had begun Thursday in the city of Mashhad, then spread to other parts of the country.

The resulting clashes with security forces have left a toll of at least 20 people dead, while more than a thousand were arrested.