Hardline Cleric Admits Intensity of Protests in Iran Surprised Officials

Iranian protesters gather around a burning motorcycle during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the central city of Isfahan, on November 16, 2019. - One person was killed and others injured in protests across Iran, hours after a surprise decision to increase petrol prices by 50 percent …
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Ali Saeedi, a hardline Iranian cleric close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, admitted on Wednesday that top officials were surprised by the intensity of protests against the recent gasoline tax hike. 

Radio Farda reported Saeedi said Ayatollah Khamenei “has accepted full responsibility for the consequences of the plan to increase the price of gasoline in Iran,” but then he proceeded to blame everything on the secular wing of Iran’s government headed by President Hassan Rouhani:

Protests that started November 15 after the price hike was announced, have entered their 6th day on Wednesday and have reportedly gained momentum regardless of officials’ claims about the situation being under control.

But Saidi, who is the chief of Khamenei’s political and ideological office indicated that the protests came as a surprise. “The officials did not expect widespread protests,” he said. He attributed the problem to a “poorly made decision” probably by the Rouhani administration.

Although he did not name anyone as the culprit, all the allusions he made to “threats” against the regime were about Rouhani’s performance. He criticized Rouhani and his aides as “Westoxicated,” and trying to create a situation to surrender to the West, making poor decisions, and creating a bi-polar situation in the society.

He also said that “some people want to topple the regime using the situation ahead of the parliamentary elections.” However, he did not say who was behind the plan to change the regime.

Radio Farda noted that Iran’s extremist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is loyal to the clergy, has also insinuated the secular legislature has been subverted by “infiltrators.”

The IRGC on Thursday claimed “incidents, big and small, caused by the rise in petrol price” occurred in fewer than 100 cities over the past six days, and most of the disruptions were quickly ended thanks to “the armed forces’ insight and timely action.”

The IRGC claimed to have arrested “the rioters’ leaders” in several towns, including the city of Shiraz, scene of some of the largest protest marches.

For his part, Rouhani characterized the protests as a foreign plot and congratulated the Iranian people for defeating it on Wednesday. He claimed all the mayhem was caused by a small number of “rioters” supported by “foreign and terrorist” agencies, specifically the United States, Israel, and “reactionary regional regimes,” meaning Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Muslim Gulf states.

Iran’s National Oil Products Distribution Company (NIOPDC) published a statement on Thursday saying the controversial gas price increases have been implemented, raising the price of gasoline by 50 percent and rationing fuel for private automobiles. Fuel purchased in excess of the monthly ration cap will cost triple the old price, which is still extremely cheap compared to most gasoline prices in the world.

A senior Iranian security official claimed on Wednesday that the government blacked out the Internet to keep it from being used by “saboteurs” seeking to coordinate terrorist actions across Iran.

“Given that the main elements of the mutinies have been arrested, God willing, the Internet will be restored in the next days,” he said. Comments from other officials suggested there is still debate within the regime about when to fully restore Internet service.

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