At Least Six Dead In Iranian Protests, Tensions Still High

Tensions remain high in Iran three days after a sharp hike in fuel prices sparked deadly protests in dozens of towns and cities across the country.

The situation on the streets was unclear on November 18, however, largely due to an Internet outage imposed by authorities that has stemmed the flow of videos and communications shared on social media.

Officials said six people had been killed in clashes -- including three protesters, two members of Iran's security forces, and one security guard -- but reports suggest the death toll could be much higher.

Iran's government on November 18 insisted that its decision to ration fuel and increase the price was the right one.

"The president [Hassan Rohani] has shown courage with the rationing of fuel and made the right economic decision, even if many disagree," said government spokesman Ali Rabiei on November 18, while warning that violence and vandalism would not be tolerated.

The AFP news agency quoted Rabiei as saying the situation was "calmer" though there were still "some minor issues."

Some of the few videos to make it to social media appeared to show government forces shooting at protesters.

At least five universities in the cities of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, and elsewhere were closed, while schools were also shut in more than 17 cities in at least five provinces, Iranian media reported.

The metro in Isfahan stopped operating due to lack of security.

Authorities have warned of a harsh response to protests that erupted on November 15 after the government announced it was rationing gasoline purchases and cutting subsidies amid biting U.S. sanctions.

In a statement carried by state media on November 18, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) warned protesters of "decisive" action if the unrest does not cease.

Meanwhile, NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide Internet access, said connectivity in Iran had fallen to just 5 percent of ordinary levels.

More than 100 banks and shops have been set on fire during the demonstrations and about 1,000 people have been arrested, the semiofficial news agency Fars reported on November 17.

A total of 36 banks were damaged in the western province of Lorestan alone, local officials said.

Iran, which has the fourth-largest crude oil reserves in the world, still has some of the lowest fuel prices supported by government subsidies.

Gasoline prices remain among the lowest in the world even with the prices jumping about 50 percent under the new edict to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter.

At about 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon, the price is still less than a fifth of the average cost of regular gasoline in the United States, and about a tenth of the price in Western Europe.

The White House on November 17 condemned "the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators" and said it supported "the Iranian people in their peaceful protests."

On November 18, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, called on the Iranian government to engage in dialogue with the protesters, sayin it was "legitimate and deserving of our respect when people courageously air their economic and political grievances."

With reporting by AFP and Reuters