DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Protesters, angry over government-set gasoline prices spiking in Iran, attacked hundreds of banks, police outposts and gas stations in the demonstrations, Tehran acknowledged Wednesday as its supreme leader alleged that a "conspiracy" involving the U.S. caused the unrest.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment while addressing members of the Revolutionary Guard's all-volunteer Basij force, which help put down the demonstrations. Meanwhile, one lawmaker was quoted as saying authorities arrested more than 7,000 people over the protests while a security official claimed demonstrators attempted to take over Iranian state television.
The remarks represent the latest swing in the response by Iran's Shiite theocracy to the protests, which has seen officials either downplay or demonize demonstrators. Unlike the 2009 Green Movement protests over Iran's disputed presidential election, or its 2017 economic protests, demonstrations this month rapidly turned violent within a day, showing the anger of many as the country's economy struggles under renewed American sanctions.
Iran's government still hasn't offered any statistics on injuries, arrests or deaths in the protests and security crackdown that followed government-set gasoline prices rising Nov. 15. Amnesty International says it believes that the violence killed at least 143 people, which Iran disputes.Gallery: Demonstrators attend a pro-government rally in Iran
In comments reported by state media, Khamenei said the Iranian people extinguished "a very dangerous deep conspiracy that cost so much money and effort." He praised the police, the Guard and the Basij for "entering the field and carrying out their task in a very difficult confrontation."
Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, described the protests as being orchestrated by "global arrogance," which he often uses to refer to the U.S., "and Zionists." He described America as seeing the price hikes as an "opportunity" to bring their "troops" to the field but the "move was destroyed by the people."
Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Basij. Videos from the protest purport to show plainclothes Basij officials and others on motorcycles beating and detaining protesters.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate within Iran's ruling Shiite theocracy, similarly blamed America for the protests. He called violent protesters "mercenaries" and "hooligans," alleging the U.S. sent money over two years to spark the demonstrations.
"We achieved a great national victory against superpowers," Rouhani said. "This great epic shows the power of our people."
Late Wednesday, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Iran's Intelligence Ministry claiming that it arrested eight people who it described as receiving CIA training abroad to be "citizen reporters." The ministry alleged that those arrested received instructions to participate in the unrest and make detailed reports, including pictures.
"Six of these people were arrested while attending riots and executing intelligence services' orders," the ministry said.
Meanwhile, the moderate news website Entekhab quoted Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, a member of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, as saying more than 7,000 people had been arrested in the demonstrations. He did not elaborate.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli also claimed in an interview late Tuesday on state television that "some 500 people" tried to storm Iran's state television offices. He did not elaborate and no protests had been previously reported in the northern Tehran neighborhood home to the state broadcaster.
Fazli also estimated as many as 200,000 people took part in the demonstrations, higher than previous claims. He said demonstrators damaged over 50 police stations, as well as 34 ambulances, 731 banks and 70 gas stations in the country.
Information for this article was contributed by Samya Kullab and Murtada Faraj of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/28/2019
Print Headline: Iran accuses U.S. of stoking protest