Iran rejects as 'lies' unrest death tolls given abroad

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Iranian pro-government demonstrators burn makeshift US flags at a recent rally in Tehran

Iranian pro-government demonstrators burn makeshift US flags at a recent rally in Tehran (AFP Photo/ATTA KENARE)

Tehran (AFP) - Iran on Tuesday rejected as "utter lies" unofficial casualty figures given for street violence that erupted last month during demonstrations against a shock decision to hike fuel prices.

US President Donald Trump, speaking in London, told reporters that "the word is that thousands of people are being killed in Iran that are protesting," without providing details.

"That's why they cut off the internet. They cut off the internet so people can't see what's going on," he said ahead of a NATO summit.

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

The days of unrest in Iran from November 15 saw protesters attack police stations, loot shops and torch banks and petrol stations as authorities imposed a week-long internet blackout.

Videos that have surfaced since purport to show scenes from the crackdown that followed, including footage of security forces firing at unarmed demonstrators or beating them with batons.

The United States, France and Germany have all condemned Iran over the bloodshed, which human rights group Amnesty International estimates claimed more than 200 lives.

Tehran has not yet given any overall death toll, but on Tuesday strongly rejected such reports and figures as enemy "propaganda".

- 'Tough confrontation' -

Iran's judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said: "I explicitly announce that the numbers and figures that are being given by hostile groups are utter lies and the statistics have serious differences with what they announced.

"They announced some numbers as well as some names... Their claimed numbers are sheer lies and fabricated," he said in remarks aired on state television.

"The names they have given are also lies," Esmaili said, adding that they included people who were still alive and others who had passed away from other causes.

Esmaili said 300 people arrested over the unrest were still in custody in Tehran, without giving a country-wide figure. Many had already been released after they were found to have been innocent, he added.

"We as the judiciary branch in no way consider as thugs or rioters those who took to the streets to merely voice their objections, even though they didn't have a legal permit for their street gatherings," he said.

State television on Monday night had also charged that foreign media had been "hyping up" the death toll.

The report said that "the security forces had no choice but to resort to authoritative and tough confrontation in order to save people from the hands of the rioters, and a number of rioters were killed".

- 'Thugs and rioters' -

The broadcaster said "thugs and rioters" had attacked sensitive sites, including military bases, with firearms and machetes and "in some areas had taken people hostage".

It said the incidents occurred in the cities of Bandar Mahshahr, Fardis, Malard, Sadra, Sirjan, Shahriar and Shahr-e Qods.

The report categorised those who had died in the unrest into different categories: "thugs and rioters", peaceful protesters, the security forces, and passers-by.

The unrest started hours after it was announced that the price of petrol would rise from 10,000 rials per litre to 15,000 (12 US cents) for the first 60 litres, and to 30,000 rials for any extra fuel bought after that each month.

The government said proceeds would go to the most needy. State news agency IRNA said the payments had since been made in three instalments between November 18 and 23.

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