Iran's Supreme Leader Seeks to Calm Deadly Anger Over Fuel Price Rises -- Update
By Aresu Eqbali in Tehran and Isabel Coles in Baghdad
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sought to assuage
Iranians' concerns on Sunday after an increase in fuel prices
ignited deadly unrest as the government comes under pressure at
home and in pockets of the region.
Violent protests broke out over the weekend in several cities
after the Iranian government said Friday it would cut gasoline
subsidies. Those subsidies are a sensitive issue for Iranians, who
are feeling squeezed by U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran's
Mr. Khamenei said Iranians' concerns over the fuel-price rise
were understandable and advised officials to be careful it didn't
lead to a jump in the price of other goods and commodities.
"Certainly, some people either get worried or upset, or it is not
in their interests" for fuel prices to increase.
Yet Iran's supreme leader defended the move, saying the cut in
subsidies had been made by the legislative and administrative
branches of government along with the judiciary. He lashed out at
the family of the late shah for "encouraging" the unrest as well as
the MEK, an exiled opposition movement regarded by Iran and many
Iranians as a terrorist organization.
"Unfortunately, yesterday, last night and the night before in
some cities of the country, problems were caused, and some lost
their lives, and some places were destroyed," Mr. Khamenei was
quoted as telling a class studying advanced Islamic law on
State television broadcast footage on Sunday showing banks,
shops and gas stations damaged during the protests.
A police major was killed in clashes with protesters in the
western city of Kermanshah as they attempted to seize a police
station, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
ISNA also said 40 people had been arrested in Yazd province and
charged with injuring police and vandalism. Prosecutor Mohammad
Hadadzadeh was quoted as saying that most of those arrested weren't
from the province and that they included foreign nationals.
Iran also faces popular anger beyond its borders.
Protesters in neighboring Iraq have taken to the streets in part
to vent against Iran, which they blame for propping up the
government, which they want to overturn. A protester was killed in
Baghdad on Sunday after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired
by security forces, an interior ministry official said, adding to a
toll of more than 300 deaths since demonstrations took hold on Oct.
The protests in Iran are a boon for the U.S., which has sought
to cripple the country's economy after President Trump unilaterally
withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday expressed support for
the protests. "The United States is with you," he said on
In a statement Sunday, President Trump also weighed in on the
protests. "The United States supports the Iranian people in their
peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.
We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions
used against demonstrators," a spokesperson for President Trump
Even before the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran, protesters had
taken on the government of President Hassan Rouhani, blaming him
for failing to control inflation and fix high unemployment. In late
2017, street protests evolved into the most widespread challenge to
the government in nearly a decade, with protesters demanding an end
to the Islamic Republic regime and the rule of Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian officials said 22 people died.
Since then, there have been hundreds of outbreaks of labor
unrest, piling pressure on Iranian leaders for failing to deliver
better times after economic sanctions were lifted in the nuclear
The scope and scale of the latest protests have been difficult
to determine, since the government has restricted access to the
internet. Netblocks, which tracks internet shutdowns and
disruptions, said Saturday that network data showed connectivity at
7% of ordinary levels after 12 hours of progressive network
disconnections in Iran.
In Iraq, where the government has also repeatedly shut down the
internet during four weeks of demonstrations, an open letter
addressed to the Iranian people was circulated in the name of
protesters' on Saturday. The message, written in Persian, sought to
clarify that anti-Iranian slogans weren't directed against the
people, but their government.
"Our problem is with the Iranian sectarian regime that backs all
the corrupt politicians, criminals and murderers in our corrupt
government. You should be aware of the fact that we Iraqi People
only have a genuine love for you," the message said.
An Interior Ministry official said two rockets landed on Sunday
in the vicinity of Tahrir Square -- the epicenter of the protests
in Baghdad -- causing no casualties. The identity of the assailant
was unknown but previous incidents of rocket fire have been blamed
on paramilitary forces with links to Iran who have a vested
interest in the survival of the Iraqi government. The paramilitary
groups deny responsibility.
Write to Isabel Coles at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 17, 2019 16:11 ET (21:11 GMT)
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