Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday backed the government’s decision to raise gasoline prices and called angry protesters who have been setting fire to public property over the hike "thugs," signaling a potential crackdown.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments came as authorities shut down the internet across Iran to smother the protests in some two dozen cities and towns over the rise of government-set prices by 50 per cent as of Friday. One firm said it was the biggest internet outage ever seen in Iran.
Since the hike, demonstrators have abandoned their cars along major highways and joined mass protests in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere.
Some protests turned violent, with demonstrators setting fires and there was also gunfire. It remains to be seen how many people have been injured, killed and arrested as videos from the protests have shown people gravely wounded.
Iranian authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll in the violence surrounding the unrest to at least two. Attackers targeting a police station in Kermanshah on Saturday killed one officer there, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday.
Earlier, one man was reported killed. In an address aired by state television Sunday, Ayatollah Khamenei said "some lost their lives and some places were destroyed," without elaborating.
He called violent protesters "thugs" who had been pushed into violence by counterrevolutionaries and foreign enemies of Iran.
He specifically named those aligned with the family of Iran’s late shah, ousted 40 years ago, and an exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
"Setting a bank on fire is not an act done by the people. This is what thugs do," Khamenei said.
However, he made a point to back the decision of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s relatively moderate president, to raise gasoline prices.
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Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per litre of petrol – 50 per cent up from the day before.