Iranian commander chides US for 'failed plot' citing protests

Situation 'calmer' after days of violent demonstrations, government says, as militia leader blames US for unrest.

    An Iranian militia commander has accused the United States of instigating unrest in the country as protests erupted across Iran over a shock decision to increase petrol prices.

    "America's plot failed," said Brigadier-General Gholamreza Soleimani, commander of the Basij militia, a volunteer force loyal to the establishment, according to semi-official news agency ISNA.

    Demonstrations broke out on Friday after it was announced the price of petrol would be raised by 50 percent for the first 60 litres and 200 percent for any extra fuel after that each month.

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    After days of violence that killed at least two people, saw major roads blocked, banks torched and shops looted, the situation was "calmer" on Monday, according to government spokesman Ali Raibei.

    "Only some minor problems remain and by tomorrow and the day after, there will remain no riots," Rabiei told reporters at a press briefing in the capital, Tehran.

    "There have been gatherings in some cities, in some provinces."

    Pressed to give figures on casualties in the unrest, he said: "What I can tell you today is that gatherings are about 80 percent less than the previous day."

    The situation on the streets has been unclear largely because of an internet outage that has stemmed the flow of videos shared on social media of protests or associated acts of violence.

    The authorities say they have arrested more than 200 people and restricted internet connectivity.

    Netblocks, a website that monitors net traffic, tweeted: "40 hours after #Iran implemented a near-total internet shutdown, connectivity to the outside world remains at just 5% of ordinary levels".

    'Decisive action'

    Iran's economy has been battered since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions.

    As part of efforts to blunt the effects of the US sanctions, the government announced at midnight on November 15 the rollout of a rationing scheme and the slashing of subsidies. 

    The changes are aimed at raising funds for cash handouts to Iran's poorest citizens, but many Iranians already grappling with rising inflation were quick to protest against the new policy.

    At least 100 banks and dozens of buildings and cars were torched, state media reported.

    Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned anti-government protesters of "decisive" action if unrest over petrol price hikes do not cease, state media said, in a hint that a harsh security crackdown could be on the cards.

    "If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people's peace and security," the IRGC said in a statement carried by state media.

    The US on Sunday condemned Iran for using "lethal force" against demonstrators.

    "The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them," said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

    Iran's foreign ministry slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he tweeted "the United States is with you" on Saturday in response to the demonstrations.

    In a statement issued on Sunday, the ministry said it was reacting to Pompeo's "expression of support ... for a group of rioters in some cities of Iran and condemned such support and interventionist remarks".

    "The dignified people of Iran know well that such hypocritical remarks do not carry any honest sympathy," spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying.

    SOURCE: News agencies