US says it will sanction Iran 'abuses' against protestors


Iranians walk past the branch of a local bank that was damaged during demonstrations against gasoline price hikes on November 20th in Shahriar, west of Tehran. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

Iranians walk past the branch of a local bank that was damaged during demonstrations against gasoline price hikes on November 20th in Shahriar, west of Tehran. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday (November 21st) urged Iranians to send photos and other information documenting repression amid ongoing protests, while vowing to sanction "abuses" by the Islamic republic.

Demonstrations erupted in Iran last Friday, hours after the price of gasoline spiked by as much as 200%, with unrest spreading to scores of urban centres.

"I have asked the Iranian protestors to send us their videos, photos and information documenting the regime's crackdown on protestors," Pompeo said in a social media post.

"The US will expose and sanction the abuses," he added.

A near-total internet shutdown has made obtaining information on bloodshed difficult. Officials have confirmed five deaths, but Amnesty International has said the real death toll could be well over 100.

The UN's human rights office has said it was alarmed by reports that live ammunition had caused a "significant number of deaths".

Earlier Thursday, US President Donald Trump accused Iran of blocking the internet to cover up "death and tragedy".

"Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country," Trump tweeted.

The internet blackout remained largely in effect Thursday, with Iranians abroad tweeting hashtags like #Internet4Iran and calling for an end to the outage.

The national security council made the decision to pull the plug on internet access, said semi-official news agency ISNA.

Protest leaders arrested

Iran's mission to the UN called the Amnesty toll "speculative" and said Iran was subject to a "disinformation campaign".

Meanwhile, the official website of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) praised the armed forces for taking "timely action" against "rioters" and suggested that calm had been restored.

While the internet remained mostly blocked for a fifth day, state TV showed footage of what it said were pro-government rallies to celebrate the defeat of the "conspiracy".

Protest leaders were arrested in the province of Tehran, Alborz and the southern city of Shiraz, it added.

Top Iranian security official Ali Shamkhani vowed that all those identified as rioters would be "punished", according to Iran's Mehr news agency.

Calls for 'maximum restraint'

The EU urged Iran to show "maximum restraint" in handling protests.

Germany on Thursday condemned Iranian security forces for using excessive force as they sought to quell the protests.

"We are shocked by reports of the deaths of more than 100 victims, and condemn the disproportionate action by Iranian security forces. The right to peaceful protest must be respected," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

"We call on the Iranian security forces to exercise the greatest possible restraint," she added.

Berlin also urged Tehran to "completely lift" the blockade on the internet.

In an effort to mitigate the higher fuel costs, Iran on Monday started paying out cash handouts to 40 million people, with 20 million more set to be paid on Saturday, local media said.

Monthly handouts -- ranging from 550,000 rials ($4.64) for individuals to slightly more than 2 million rials ($17) for families of five and more -- are to be financed via revenue generated from a reduction in gasoline subsidies.

But on Tehran streets, people complained of economic hardship.

"Our income has not increased at all but costs have tripled or quadrupled," said Ehsan, a lawyer. "If it continues as is, it will be really hard to manage livings costs."

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