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Irans supreme leader on Sunday backed the governments decision to raise gasoline prices and called angry protesters who have been setting fire to public property over the hike “bandits”, signaling a potential crackdown on the demonstrations.
Ayatollah Ali Khameneis comments came as authorities apparently shut down the internet across Iran to smother the protests in some two dozen cities and towns over the rise of government-set prices by 50 percent as of Friday.
Since the hike, demonstrators have abandoned their cars along major highways and joined mass protests in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere. Some protests turned violent, with demonstrators setting fires and there was also gunfire.
Reports from the semi-official ISNA news agency on Sunday, claimed forty people were arrested in the central Iranian city of Yazd after clashing with police.
Exactly how many people have been injured, killed or arrested remains unclear. Authorities on Saturday said only one person was killed, though other videos from the protests have shown people gravely wounded.
In an address aired by state television Sunday, Khamenei said “some people had died and some centers destroyed,” without elaborating. He called violent protesters “thugs” who had been pushed into violence by counter-revolutionaries and foreign enemies of Iran.
However, he made a point to back the decision of Irans relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani and others to raise gasoline prices. Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. Thats 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. costs $2.60 by comparison.
Khamenei ordered security forces “to implement their tasks” and for Irans citizens to keep clear of violent demonstrators.
That seemed to indicate a possible crackdown could be looming. Economic protests in late 2017 into 2018 were met by a heavy reaction by the police and the Basij, the all-volunteer force of Irans paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
The protests have put renewed pressure on Irans government as it struggles to overcome U.S. sanctions strangling the countrys economy since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehrans nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.
Though largely peaceful, the latest demonstrations devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires.
While representing a political risk for Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, they also show widespread anger among Irans 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial.
Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the worlds fourth-largest crude oil reserves. Rouhani had been pushing for higher prices to offer payments to the poor for months. While the hike was eventually expected, the decision to raise gasoline prices still caught many by surprise and sparked immediate demonstrations overnight.
Iranian internet access meanwhile saw disruptions and outages Friday night into Saturday, according to the group NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access. By Saturday night, “real-time network data show connectivity has fallen to just 7% of ordinary levels following 12 hoRead More – Source