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Iran's Rouhani claims victory over unrest and blames foreigners

Iran's Rouhani claims victory over unrest and blames foreigners
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, November 20, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS -
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OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE(Reuters)
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DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday claimed victory over unrest he blamed on foreign enemies, according to state media, after protests over fuel price rises rocked the nation and left scores reported dead.

“The Iranian people have again succeeded in an historic test and shown 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 state broadcaster IRIB on its website.

Thousands of Iranians joined pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday, state media said, after Amnesty International said more than 100 protesters died in the unrest.

State television showed rallies in Rasht, Gorgan and Ardabil in the north, Hamadan in the west, and Shahryar, south of the capital Tehran, where a member of the security forces was also killed in the turmoil.

“The spontaneous (pro-government) demonstrations which you see are the greatest sign of the power of the Iranian people,” Rouhani added.

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.

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said a plot to bomb Iran’s major gas production installations in Assalouyeh on the Gulf had been thwarted, blaming it on protesters, the semi-official news agency Mehr reported.

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.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Catherine Evans, Larry King and Andrew Cawthorne)

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