Iran arrests 7,000 as it blames US ‘conspiracy’ for protests

Rights groups say more than 100 people were killed in unrest

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him (C) during a meeting with members of the Basij, a militia loyal to the Islamic republic's establishment, on the occasion of the "Basij Week" in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 27, 2019. Khamenei said that Iranians had foiled a "very dangerous" plot after violence erupted during demonstrations earlier this month against a petrol price hike. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER'S WEBSITE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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Iran said it arrested more than 7,000 people during the country’s recent unrest, with its supreme leader blaming the uprising on a US conspiracy.

Protests began on November 15 after a government-sanctioned increase in petrol prices, but grew into wider demonstrations against the regime, with calls for senior leaders to step down.

No official toll of deaths or injuries has been released and outside observers are finding it difficult to gather information because of an internet cut by the government.

Amnesty International says it believes at least 143 people were killed, which Iran disputes.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told state media that the Iranian people had extinguished “a very dangerous, deep conspiracy that cost so much money and effort”.

Mr Khamenei praised the police, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij militia for “entering the field and carrying out their task in a very difficult confrontation”.

The leader, who has the final say on all matters of state, described the protests as being orchestrated by “global arrogance”.

Mr Khamenei said the US considered the price rise as an opportunity to bring their troops to the field but the “move was destroyed by the people”.

“A deep, vast and very dangerous conspiracy that a lot of money had been spent on was destroyed by the people,” he said in a meeting with the paramilitary Basij force, which took part in the crackdown on the protests.

Hossein Hosseini, who sits on the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said more than 7,000 people had been arrested during the turmoil.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Fazli said 731 banks and 140 government buildings were burnt down.

More than 50 bases used by the security forces were attacked and about 70 petrol stations were burnt, Mr Fazli said.

US sanctions imposed this year cut off nearly all of Iran’s oil exports.

Similar protest movements have risen in Iraq and Lebanon against governments that include heavily armed pro-Iran factions.

There has been about a 20 million-litre drop in daily fuel use since the price rise, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told the semi-official Isna news agency.

The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since last year, when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Washington’s “maximum pressure” has caused Iran’s economy to deteriorate with inflation rising, growing unemployment, a slump in the rial and state corruption.