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Iran Claims Victory Over 'Enemy Conspiracy' As Death Toll From Protests Rises

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Rights groups say scores of people may have been killed in the protests, even hundreds.

Iran's leaders have claimed defeat over an "enemy conspiracy" in the face of growing international condemnation of its deadly crackdown on demonstrations sparked by sharp fuel-price hikes.

"Our people have been victorious," President Hassan Rohani told a cabinet meeting on November 20, claiming that the "armed anarchists" who took to the streets across Iran were few in number.

He also suggested that the protests were part of a "plot" by Tehran's foreign foes -- Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on November 19 that the enemy had been "repelled" in the country, adding that the unrest had not been the result of a popular movement.

Protests erupted in dozens of places across Iran after the government announced on November 15 it was rationing gasoline purchases and cutting subsidies, amid biting U.S. sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement.

International human rights groups and the United Nations have joined the United States, Germany, and France in condemning Tehran for its use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

Authorities are also being criticized for imposing a near total shutdown of the Internet.

On November 19, Amnesty International said at least 106 protesters were believed to have been killed in 21 Iranian cities.

The London-based watchdog added that the real death toll may be "much higher," citing reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cited reports suggesting that "dozens of people may have been killed and many people injured during protests in at least eight different provinces."

Videos posted on social media in defiance of a near total Internet shutdown by Iranian authorities appeared to show security forces directly shooting at protesters in different cities.

Iran Rocked By Deadly Fuel Protests
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There have also been reports saying that dozens of gas stations, banks, shops, and other public property had been damaged or destroyed by protesters.

"Authorities are brutally repressing Iranians who are frustrated with an autocratic, abusive government and its policies and who bear the brunt of negative economic consequences of renewed U.S. sanctions," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"By severing Iranians from global Internet connectivity, the authorities are hoping to hide their bloody crackdown on their own people from the rest of the world," Page added.

Media-freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on November 20 deplored "this latest crackdown on freedom of information in Iran" and urged David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to "intercede as quickly as possible to protect Iranians' fundamental rights."

"The Iranian regime must adhere to its obligations to respect international standards and put a stop to all digital discrimination," said Reza Moini, the head of RSF's Iran-Afghanistan desk.

In New York, Iranian UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said that any figures on casualties during the protests were "speculative and not reliable" unless confirmed by Iranian officials.

Miryousefi also tweeted that the government remained determined to make "prudent economic decisions while respecting human rights of its people including to freely exercise their right to protest in a peaceful environment."

Meanwhile, Iranian state media reported that thousands of people joined pro-government rallies in several cities.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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