Demonstrations have spread across the Islamic Republic since Friday with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards warning of “decisive action” if unrest over petrol price hikes and rationing continued. The exact scale of the uprising remains unclear as authorities have blocked internet access to stop the use of social media to organise rallies and disseminate videos.
But at least eight people are believed to have been killed during the demonstrations and there are fears the death toll could be many times more than that.
The protests began when furious protestors took to the streets after officials in Tehran announced the introduction of 50 percent rise in petrol prices.
They quickly spread across the Islamic Republic and have turned political with growing calls for top clerical leaders step down.
State-controlled media said at least 100 banks and dozens of buildings and cars have been attacked and set alight.
Iran’s heavily-armed and much-feared Revolutionary Guards appeared to suggest a crackdown was on the cards in a statement which said: “If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people’s peace and security.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We condemn strongly any acts of violence committed by this regime against the Iranian people and are deeply concerned by reports of several fatalities.
“The Islamic Republic must cease violence against its own people and should immediately restore the ability of all Iranians to access a free and open Internet. The world’s watching.”
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Earlier, Iranian leaders blamed the US and other outside influences for stirring up the protests.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the turmoil on Iran’s opponents and foreign foes, denouncing protesters who attacked public property as “thugs” and “hooligans”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi attacked the US for expressing support for “a group of rioters” after Mr Pompeo posted a tweet telling the demonstrators “the United States is with you”.
Mr Mousavi accused Washington of sowing discord by waging “economic terrorism” on its people through sanctions and called the rioters saboteurs.
President Hassan Rouhani’s government said the petrol price rises were intended to raise around £2bn a year for extra subsidies to 18 million families on low incomes.
But the move has enraged ordinary Iranians already suffering as a result of reimposed US sanctions that have undermined government promises of more jobs and investment.
Frustration has grown over a sharp devaluation of Iran’s rial currency as well as spikes in the prices of bread, rice and other staples since Washington began to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran to make tougher nuclear and security concessions.
Many in oil-producing Iran see cheap petrol as a fundamental right and the price hike sparked worries about a further squeeze on living costs, despite state assurances that the revenue raised would be put to assisting needy families.
As the violence spread, some Iranians managed to post social media videos showing police firing tear gas to disperse protesters.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a televised news conference: “Rioters used knives and guns.
“A number of security agents and policemen were killed or taken hostage.”