Iran’s Rouhani Claims Victory Over Unrest He Blames on Foreigners

DUBAI (Reuters) -
Riot police try to disperse people on a highway protesting against increased the gas price, in Tehran, Nov. 16. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA [West Asia News Agency] via Reuters)

Iranian President Rouhani on Wednesday claimed victory over unrest he blamed on Iran‘s foreign enemies, according to state media, after protests over an increase in gasoline prices last week that have shaken the country.

“The Iranian people have again succeeded at an historic test and shown that they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country’s management,” Rouhani said in remarks carried by the state broadcaster IRIB on its website.

“The spontaneous [pro-government] demonstrations which you see are the greatest sign of the power of the Iranian people,” Rouhani said.

Thousands of Iranians joined pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday, Iran‘s state media reported, after Amnesty International said more than 100 protesters had been killed in the unrest.

State media showed rallies in the northern city of Rasht, in Gorgan in the northeast and in Shahryar, south of the capital, Tehran, where a member of the security forces had been killed in the unrest.

State media carried pictures of Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran‘s top security body, marching in Shahryar behind a banner that read, “Death to America and Israel’s deception!”

Iran has blamed “thugs” linked to exiles and foreign enemies – the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia – for the protests. The unrest began on Friday after gasoline prices were raised at least 50% and rationing imposed. They quickly turned political.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday the protests had been a security matter, not a popular movement, and had been dealt with successfully.

Amnesty International said at least 106 protesters in 21 cities had been killed, according to witness reports, verified videos and information from human rights activists. Iran‘s mission to the United Nations called Amnesty’s report “baseless allegations and fabricated figures.”

Iran has restricted access to the internet, making it nearly impossible for protesters to post social media videos of demonstrations.

About 1,000 protesters have been arrested, officials said.

The U.N. human rights office said it had received reports that dozens of people had been killed. It urged authorities to rein in its use of force to disperse protests.

Frustration has grown over a weakening currency and rising prices for bread, rice and other staples since the United States withdrew from Iran‘s 2015 nuclear agreement and re-imposed sanctions.

The government said the price rises were intended to raise around $2.55 billion a year for extra subsidies to 18 million families struggling on low incomes.