DUBAI, Dec 3, (Agencies): Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowledged security forces shot and killed what it described as “rioters” in multiple cities amid recent protests over the spike in government-set gasoline prices – the first time that authorities have offered any sort of accounting for the violence they used to put down the demonstrations. Amnesty International believes the unrest and crackdown that followed, beginning in mid- November, killed at least 208 people.
An Iranian judiciary official disputed the toll as “sheer lies,” without offering any evidence to support his position. Iran shut down internet access amid the unrest, blocking those inside the country from sharing their videos and information. It also limited the outside world’s insight into the scale of the protests and the violence, though online videos have emerged purporting to show security forces shooting protesters.
The recent demonstrations over gasoline prices – while not drawing as many Iranians into the streets as the 2009 protests over the country’s disputed presidential election – rapidly turned violent, faster than previous rallies. That shows the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. The demonstrations came after months of attacks across the Mideast that the US blames on Tehran.
Meanwhile, Iran has begun breaking the limits of the nuclear deal in hopes of pressuring Europe into finding a way for Tehran to sell its crude oil abroad despite American sanctions. The state TV report alleged that some of those killed were “rioters who have attacked sensitive or military centers with firearms or knives or have taken hostages in some areas.”
The report described others killed as passers-by, security forces and peaceful protesters, without assigning blame for their deaths. In one case, the report said security forces confronted a separatist group armed with “semi-heavy weapons” in the city of Mahshahr in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province.
The surrounding oil-rich province’s Arab population long has complained of discrimination by Iran’s central government and insurgent groups have attacked oil pipelines in the past there. Online videos purportedly from the area showed peaceful protests, as well as clashes between demonstrators and security forces.