Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed - and possibly hundreds more - as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force. It began two weeks ago with an abrupt increase of at least 50 percent in gasoline prices. Within 72 hours, outraged demonstrators in cities large and small were calling for an end to the Islamic Republic's government and the downfall of its leaders.
The Islamic Republic has demanded that some families pay for the cost of the bullets used to kill relatives during nationwide anti-government protests as the estimated death toll continues to rise. Human rights NGO Amnesty International reported that Iranian authorities would demand the payments for the bullets or compensation for destroyed property when returning the victims' bodies to their families. Families have also been warned against holding funerals or speaking to the media. In many cases, victims' bodies have not been returned to families at all.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is preparing to issue a ban on Hezbollah that would extend restrictions on the Iran-backed group to cover all its activities in Germany. Ministries are still working on a so-called "activity ban," according to a government official, who confirmed an earlier report in Der Spiegel magazine and asked not to be identified by name. The measure could be introduced next week, Spiegel said on its website. In the European Union, an existing ban is limited to Hezbollah's military wing.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran rejected as "irresponsible" France's comments that Paris was seriously considering triggering a mechanism within the Iran nuclear deal that could lead to U.N. sanctions, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday, state TV reported. "Iran's scaling back of its nuclear commitments was implementation of its legal rights to react to America's illegal and unilateral exit of the deal and the European parties' failure to fulfil their obligations," Mousavi said.
Iran rejects as "irresponsible" comments by France that it is seriously considering triggering a mechanism within the Iran nuclear deal that could lead to U.N. sanctions, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday. "Iran's scaling back of its nuclear commitments was implementation of its legal rights to react to America's illegal and unilateral exit of the deal and the European parties' failure to fulfill their obligations," Mousavi said in remarks quoted by state television.
Iran has warned it may "seriously reconsider" its commitments to the UN atomic watchdog if European parties to a nuclear deal trigger a dispute mechanism that could lead to fresh sanctions. The speaker for the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, told a press conference in Tehran on Sunday: "If they use the trigger [mechanism], Iran would be forced to seriously reconsider some of its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency. If they think doing so is more beneficial to them, they can go ahead."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Daily consumption of gasoline in Iran has dropped by about a fifth following the government's decision to hike prices and introduce rationing, according to officials. Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said demand fell by 20 million liters a day, while National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Co. said consumption had dropped from an average daily rate of 98 million liters since March 20 to 79 million liters. Iran this month cut back on expensive gasoline subsidies with its economy struggling under the weight of crippling U.S. sanctions.
The Trump administration assured U.S. banks on Wednesday that they can temporarily process U.S. dollar transactions on a Dalian unit of China's biggest shipping company COSCO that Washington had imposed sanctions on over suspicions it transported oil from Iran. The United States' sanctions on Sept. 25 pushed global freight costs to record highs and added millions of dollars in costs to many voyages.
Paris, London and Berlin on Saturday welcomed six new European countries to the INSTEX barter mechanism, which is designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran by avoiding use of the U.S. dollar. "As founding shareholders of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), France, Germany and the United Kingdom warmly welcome the decision taken by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, to join INSTEX as shareholders," the three said in a joint statement.
On Nov. 15, Iran announced a shift in its gasoline subsidy policies that led to massive social protests and the unprecedented government response of a weeklong internet shutdown. Though it's too early to have a complete analysis of the recent wave of anti-government protests, it is valid to argue that the political, economic and social costs of the recent decision were very high. The question now is whether Iran's sanctions-hit economy will see benefits that could justify the enormous costs of the political fallout.
An Iranian general has warned that Iran's missile arsenals are aimed at 21 American military bases in the Middle East and the country is prepared for "the greatest war against the greatest enemy." In a November 29 speech, at an event in the southern city of Bushehr commemorating 40 years since the establishment of the Basij paramilitary force, Gen. Allahnoor Noorollahi also said that Iran had the ability to raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground. Noorollahi serves as a top adviser to the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Officers College.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 45 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities. At least 29 people died in the southern city of Nassiriya when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and later gathered outside a police station. Police and medical sources said dozens of others were wounded.
Iran gave a glimpse on Wednesday into the scale of what may have been the biggest anti-government protests in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic, with an official saying 200,000 people had taken part and a lawmaker saying 7,000 were arrested. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his strongest remarks since the unrest peaked, described the two weeks of violence as the work of a "very dangerous conspiracy". He also said the unrest, initially sparked by fuel price hikes but which then spiraled, had been completely quelled.
Iranian state media is quoting its supreme leader as calling recent mass protests against government-set gasoline prices rising a "conspiracy." Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment Wednesday while addressing members of the Revolutionary Guard's all-volunteer Basij force, which help put down the demonstrations. Khamenei in part blamed the U.S., without offering any evidence to support his claim. Iran's government still hasn't offered any statistics on injuries, arrests or deaths in the protests and security crackdown that followed government-set gasoline prices rising Nov. 15.
Protesters angry over government-set gasoline prices spiking in Iran attacked hundreds of banks, police outposts and gas stations in the demonstrations, Tehran acknowledged Wednesday as its supreme leader alleged without evidence that a "conspiracy" involving the U.S. caused the unrest. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment while addressing members of the Revolutionary Guard's all-volunteer Basij force, which help put down the demonstrations.
Even among hardliners in Iran, there seems to be an acknowledgment of one fact after widespread protests, violence and a security force crackdown following a spike in government-set gasoline prices: This will not be the last time demonstrators come out on the street. As Iran struggles under crushing U.S. sanctions following President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal of America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers, its elected civilian government and those in its Shiite theocracy will face ever-tougher decisions on where to cut costs.
At least 180 people in Iran have been killed over the last two weeks as the regime cracks down on mass protests sparked by a 50 percent increase in gasoline prices. Within three days after the spike in gas prices was announced Nov. 15, demonstrators were vigorously demanding an end to the Islamic Republic's government. Security forces responded by shooting unarmed protesters, many of whom are unemployed, low-income men between the ages of 19 and 26, according to witness accounts and videos obtained by The New York Times.
Human Rights Watch accused Iran on Wednesday of "deliberately covering up" deaths and arrests during a crackdown on demonstrations this month. Protests broke out across sanctions-hit Iran on November 15, hours after a sharp fuel price hike was announced. Reports of deaths and arrests emerged as security forces were deployed to rein in demonstrations which turned violent in some areas, with dozens of banks, petrol pumps and police stations torched.
Western news agencies producing content in Persian have rebuked Iran for harassing their journalists based in Europe and the United States and for intimidating the Iran-based relatives of those journalists. In a statement emailed to VOA Persian on Tuesday, a BBC spokesman said the London-based network has seen an increase in Iranian harassment of its Persian service staff and their families since the network began covering anti-government protests that erupted in Iran on November 15 and spread to dozens of cities.
Two weeks after widespread anti-regime protests began in Iran, the security and intelligence forces of the Islamic Republic are still busy arresting more "suspects". The commander of security forces in the western part of Tehran Province announced on Thursday, November 28 that thirty more people have been arrested in towns west of Tehran. "The security forces have detained thirty principal elements behind the recent 'riots' in the western part of Tehran province," said West Tehran police chief, Mohsen Khancharli.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iranian security agents arrested at least eight people linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during last week's unrest over gasoline price hikes, the official news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday. "These elements had received CIA-funded training in various countries under the cover of becoming citizen-journalists," IRNA quoted the Intelligence Ministry as saying. "Six were arrested while attending the riots and carrying out (CIA) orders and two while trying to ... send information abroad."
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran and other issues, the White House said in a brief statement. "The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues," the White House said in an email statement. Relations between Iran and the United States have worsened since last year when Trump pulled out of Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iranian navy commander Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi indicated this week that the rogue nation would flex its muscle by possibly participating in joint war games with Russia and China in December, according to reports. "[T]he joint war game between Iran, Russia and China, which will hopefully be conducted next month, carries the same message to the world, that these three countries have reached a meaningful strategic point in their relations," Khanzadi said Wednesday, according to Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency.
As Iran cracks down on mass protests at home, the Islamist regime continues to strike at dissidents who criticize it from exile abroad. Iranian opposition figure Massoud Molavi was gunned down as he walked on the streets of Istanbul this month, according to Turkish media reports. Thought to be in his 30s, Molavi ran a social-media channel on the Telegram messaging service. He claimed to have contacts within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and published allegations of corruption against regime elites.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran has begun registration of candidates for running in the country's parliamentary elections set for February 2020, the official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday. The elections will be a gauge for the popularity of the moderate and reformist camps that President Hassan Rouhani represents. It comes after unrest over government-set petrol prices earlier in November. Iran has not released any figure on the death toll, though Amnesty International says at least 161 were killed in the protests.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reports that authorities in the capital Tehran have decided to close down all kindergartens, schools and universities because of high levels of air pollution. The Friday report quotes Tehran Province Deputy Gov. Mohammad Taghiizade as saying a special committee made the decision following days of high air pollution levels that are expected to get higher on Saturday, the first working day of the week in Iran.
Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi has compared Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Shah, the monarch deposed in a 1979 revolution, following the government's crackdown on protests this month. The unrest began on Nov. 15 after the government of the Islamic Republic, one of OPEC's biggest oil producers, announced gasoline price hikes. But the protests quickly turned political, with demonstrators demanding the removal of top leaders.
Mobile data has been restored in parts of Tehran and other areas as the government gradually rolls back an internet blackout in place since nationwide protests erupted earlier this month. Service wasn't renewed in some western areas of Tehran province where demonstrations had been more violent, according to the breakdown provided in the semiofficial Iranian Students' News Agency and Fars news agency. The government swiftly quelled the protests that broke out across the nation after an increase in fuel prices, with the London-based Amnesty International rights group reporting more than 140 killed.
A senior Iranian official has suggested in an interview with AFP that authorities may be more open than in the past in approving candidates for a looming parliamentary election. "We don't consider ourselves immune from criticism. We may also accept that mistakes have been made in the past," said Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee. "But for the next legislative elections we are trying to reduce our mistakes and respect the rights of candidates."
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel's prime minister is lashing out at European countries for joining a body that would allow some trading with Iran despite U.S. sanctions. Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday in a video statement that European countries "should be ashamed of themselves" for seeking to trade with Iran. He says the countries were enabling Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Last week, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden said they were joining INSTEX, a body designed to facilitate European trade with Iran.
It was the sort of chant that, only a month or so ago, would have been all but unthinkable in Lebanon. "Terrorists, terrorists, Hezbollah are terrorists," yelled some of the hundreds of anti-government protesters who stood on a main road in Beirut early Monday morning, in a tense standoff with supporters of Hezbollah and another Shiite party, the Amal Movement. Other protesters told the chanters to stop, but as widespread economic discontent and anger engulf Lebanon-and with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah defending the government-the sanctity around Hezbollah's reputation is clearly broken.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
An expanded soccer tournament, a direct flight, clandestine meetings and a pledge to release prisoners of war; diplomacy is breaking out as Gulf Arab nations back away from a Donald Trump-inspired confrontation with Iran. And the signs are everywhere. Last week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain played their first games of the 2019 Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar after a last-minute decision to take part -- an apparent breakthrough in a 30-month feud that saw them halt trade and flights over Qatar's links with Iran and support for Islamist groups.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq condemned an attack on Iran's consulate in the southern city of Najaf, its state news agency said early on Thursday, citing the foreign ministry, after the building was stormed and set ablaze by Iraqi protesters the previous day. Wednesday's attack was 'aimed at damaging the historical relations between Iraq and Iran and with rest of the countries', the ministry said in a statement. "Diplomatic missions operating in Iraq are highly respected and appreciated," it added, stressing that the incident did not reflect Iraq's perspective.
As anti-government protests demanding a complete overhaul of the political system continue from the capital to the mainly Shia south, some protesters have focused their anger on official Iranian facilities. In the strongest expression of anti-Iranian sentiment since demonstrations began in early October, protesters stormed the Iranian consulate in the Shia holy city of Najaf on Wednesday night, bringing down the Iranian flag and replacing it with Iraq's.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that Tehran is currently hosting a delegation of Taliban leaders to discuss the peace process in Afghanistan. "To work toward peace in Afghanistan, we will sit down with all Afghan political groups and they [the Taliban delegation] are here for the same purpose," Zarif told reporters following a Cabinet meeting in Tehran Nov. 27.
TURKEY & IRAN
Turkish police said on Thursday they had detained five people in relation to the killing in Istanbul of an Iranian citizen who Turkish media said was an opponent of Iran's government. Masoud Molavi died after he was shot at from a car in Istanbul's central district of Sisli on Nov. 14. Turkish broadcaster Haberturk said Molavi was a former Iranian intelligence employee who later became an opponent of Tehran. Police said five people, including the person who is believed to have carried out the shooting, were detained on Wednesday.