Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on 20 November claimed victory after a deadly crackdown by security forces on protests over gasoline price rises, blaming Iran’s foreign enemies.
“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, Reuters reported. “The spontaneous (pro-government) demonstrations which you see is the greatest sign of the power of the Iranian people,” Rouhani said.
Thousands of Iranians joined pro-government rallies in several cities on 20 November, Iran’s state media reported, after 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. The Amnesty International figures were dismissed by the government.
Iran has reportedly restricted access to the internet, making it nearly impossible for protesters to post social media videos of demonstrations.
Iranians have been frustrated 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 Iranian 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.
Protesters reportedly set fire to banks and petrol stations and other buildings across the country. By 17 November, they had reached some 100 cities and towns, and 1,000 people had been arrested, local media said, BBC reported, noting that security forces were still deployed on the streets on 20 November, and that they were breaking up even the smallest gatherings.
Meanwhile, Iran’s government has begun rushing out promised direct payments to 60 million Iranians, the Guardian reported on 18 November, noting that in some cases petrol prices are being raised by as much as 300%. The direct payments were aimed at the 60 million poorest of Iran’s 80 million population.
Hamid Baiidinejad, the Iranian ambassador to London, tweeted on 18 November that petrol consumption in Iran has exceeded unprecedented volume of 110 billion litres per day, due to cheap price. “The new decision by government to reduce subsidy expects to halve the high consumption, main reason for pollution and smuggling of cheap petrol to other countries,” he said.