DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday claimed victory over unrest Tehran has blamed on foreign foes after protests over fuel price rises shook the nation, and the government dismissed reports of more than 100 deaths as "speculative".
Thousands joined pro-government demonstrations on Wednesday, state media reported, with television footage showing rallies in Rasht, Gorgan and Ardabil in the north, Hamadan in the west, and Shahryar, south of the capital Tehran.
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Iranian dual nationals were among protesters arrested in the northern province of Alborz, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Quoting security sources, it said detained German, Turkish and Afghan dual nationals had been trained and funded by foreign services to take actions to destroy infrastructure and stir up civil disobedience.
These dual nationals had special equipment to be used for sabotage, it added without providing evidence or further detail.
"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.
"The spontaneous (pro-government) demonstrations which you see are the greatest sign of the power of the Iranian people."
Iran’s U.N. mission said on Wednesday dismissed the casualty reports as "speculative, not reliable" unless confirmed by the Tehran government.
"The baseless allegations and fabricated figures by biased Western entities do not shake government’s determination in making prudent economic decisions while respecting human rights of its people including to freely exercise their right to protest in a peaceful environment," mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi tweeted.
Tehran has blamed "thugs" linked to exiles and foreign foes – the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia – for the unrest, which 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.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations called Amnesty’s report "baseless allegations and fabricated figures".
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 has curbed access to the internet, making it near impossible for protesters to post social media videos of rallies.
About 1,000 protesters have been arrested, officials said.
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 with world powers and reimposed 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