US Facing New Threats From Iran in Middle East

At least 208 people are believed to have been killed during a crackdown on protests in Iran last month that followed a sharp fuel price hike Amnesty International said on Monday. — WANA via Reuters  File

The state TV report said security forces had confronted rioters in the south-central city of Shiraz, where videos and interviews with activists have revealed mass demonstrations that were met with a violent response and led to the burning of several official buildings and the confirmed deaths of 16 people. After a monthly 60-liter quota, it costs 30,000 rials a litre.

Tensions have heightened between Tehran and Washington since a year ago when President Donald Trump pulled out the USA from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country that have crippled its economy.

Iran's clerical rulers have blamed "thugs" linked to its opponents in exile and the country's main foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for the deadly protests that paralysed the oil-rich nation.

The authorities have not yet given any overall death toll for the unrest.

On Tuesday, Iranian television said those killed included rioters who had attacked sensitive or military centres with firearms or knives or who had taken hostages in some areas.

Amnesty offered no breakdown for the deaths elsewhere in the country, though it said "the real figure is likely to be higher".

It also acknowledged killings in Tehran and in its suburb Shahriar, where Amnesty said it had recently learned of "dozens" of deaths.

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"Extensive video footage verified and analyzed by Amnesty International's Digital Verification Corps shows security forces shooting at unarmed protesters", the group said. Mills said there was a "general environment of fear inside of Iran at the moment".

"Some families are also being forced to make extortionate payments to have the bodies of their loved ones returned to them", the watchdog said.

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world's fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

She said security personnel had also been visiting hospitals, looking for patients with gunshot wounds or other injuries from the unrest and immediately detained those with suspicious wounds. That's almost 24 cents a liter or 90 cents a gallon.

Philip Luther, Amnesty's research and advocacy head for the Middle East, called the number of deaths "evidence that Iran's security forces went on a horrific killing spree", and called on the worldwide community to ensure those responsible are held accountable. An average gallon of regular gas in the USA costs $2.58 by comparison, according to AAA.

Iran's per capita gross domestic product, often used as a rough sense of a nation's standard of living, is just over $6000, compared with over $62,000 in the U.S., according to the World Bank. That disparity, especially given its oil wealth, fueled the anger felt by demonstrators. The cost of daily staples also has risen.

Iran has faced growing global criticism and pressure over the security force crackdown on demonstrations that spread across at least 100 cities and towns throughout the Islamic Republic in mid-November. One lawmaker previously said he thought over 7,000 people had been arrested.

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