0109 GMT December 12, 2019
Spokesman condemns US show of support for ‘rioters’
Iran said it still faces “riots” even though the situation was calmer on Monday after days of violent protests sparked by a sudden decision to hike gasoline prices.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said the situation was “calmer” on Monday. But there were still “some minor issues but tomorrow and the day after we won’t have any issues with regard to riots,” he told a news conference, without elaborating.
“There have been gatherings in some cities, in some provinces,” Rabiei said.
Pressed to give figures on the number of casualties in the unrest, he said, “What I can tell you today is that gatherings are about 80 percent less than the previous day.”
Rabiei said violent protesters took police and security personnel hostage during the unrest.
“Rioters used knives and guns...A number of security agents and policemen were killed or taken hostage,” he said.
Major roads have been blocked, banks torched and shops looted in the nationwide unrest that has left at least two dead – a civilian and a policeman.
Footage of the violence showing masked young men on debris-strewn streets setting buildings ablaze has been aired on national television.
Fars News Agency said Sunday more than 1,000 people were arrested. At least 100 banks and dozens of buildings and cars have been torched, state media reported.
The unrest erupted on Friday, hours after it was announced the price of gasoline would rise to 15,000 rials per liter (13 US cents) from 10,000 for the first 60 liters, and to 30,000 rials for any extra fuel bought after that each month.
It is a rise many consumers can ill afford, given that Iran’s economy has been under pressure since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions.
The rial has plummeted, inflation is running at more than 40 percent and the International Monetary Fund expects Iran’s economy to contract by 9.5 percent this year.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps warned rioters of “decisive” action if unrest over gasoline price hikes do not cease.
“If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people’s peace and security,” the IRGC said in a statement carried by national TV.
Authorities restricted Internet access. Rabiei said the government should soon unblock Internet access across the country.
Fars said it was unclear when the Internet restrictions would be lifted, citing an informed government source.
NetBlocks, a website that monitors net traffic, tweeted: “40 hours after #Iran implemented a near-total internet shutdown, connectivity to the outside world remains at just 5% of ordinary levels.”
The US on Sunday condemned Iran for using “lethal force” against demonstrators.
“The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he tweeted “the United States is with you” on Saturday in response to the demonstrations.
In a statement issued late Sunday, the ministry said it was reacting to Pompeo’s “expression of support... for a group of rioters in some cities of Iran and condemned such support and interventionist remarks.”
“The dignified people of Iran know well that such hypocritical remarks do not carry any honest sympathy,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying.
“The acts of a rioter and saboteur group supported by the likes of (Pompeo) have no congruity with the conduct of the wise Iranian people.”
The statement blasted Washington’s “ill-intent” over its decision to reimpose sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
“It’s curious that the sympathizing is being done with the people who are under the pressure of America’s economic terrorism,” Mousavi said.
US seeks unrest
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on Monday that the United States’ goal concerning the Islamic Republic is nothing beyond fomenting unrest in the country.
“The US’s goal vis-à-vis Iran is nothing other than to disturb its security and set fire to the Iranian nation’s interests,” Larijani told a parliamentary session.
Larijani said through the remarks, “He (Pompeo) openly supports the burning of the Iranian people’s properties through foolish shamelessness and opportunism, while calling it defending the Iranian people.”
Such comments, Larijani added, serve to openly manifest the US’s destructive ambitions regarding the Islamic Republic.
For its part, Germany called Monday for dialogue between the government and “legitimate” protesters in Iran.
“It is legitimate and deserving of our respect when people courageously air their economic and political grievances, as is currently happening in Iran,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer.
“The Iranian government should respond to the current protests with a willingness to engage in dialogue,” she added.
Iran announced the decision to introduce gasoline price hikes and rationing at midnight Thursday-Friday, saying the move was aimed at helping the needy with cash handouts.
The plan agreed by a council made up of the president, Parliament speaker and Judiciary chief comes at a sensitive time ahead of the February parliamentary elections.
It won support on Sunday from Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
The Leader blasted “hooligans” for damaging property and said “all the centers of the world’s wickedness against us have cheered” the street protests.
“In such incidents, hooligans, spiteful and evil people often enter the field and sometimes youths, driven by emotion, accompany them and commit seditious acts. Such deeds do not fix anything other than adding insecurity to the problems,” Ayatollah Khamenei noted.
President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday defended the gasoline price hike, the proceeds of which are to be used to make welfare payments to 60 million Iranians.
Rouhani also announced the first payments would be made to 20 million people on Monday evening. But he also warned that Iran could not allow “insecurity.”
“Protesting is the people’s right, but protesting is different from rioting. We should not allow insecurity in the society,” said Rouhani.
The Intelligence Ministry said at the weekend that it has identified those behind the unrest and that measures would be taken against them.
AFP, AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.