US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday signaled his support for protesters in Iran, who have put renewed pressure on their government as it struggles to overcome the sanctions strangling the country after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
“As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you,” Pompeo said, retweeting a Persian-language tweet he sent out in July 2018 that referenced a speech he made that directly addressed the Iranian people.
“After 40 years of tyranny, the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government’s abuses,” Pompeo wrote in the original Persian tweet. “We will not stay silent either. I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you.”
Though largely peaceful, demonstrations Saturday devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires.
While representing a political risk for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, it also shows the widespread anger among the country’s 80 million people, who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the national rial currency’s collapse.
The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following Rouhani’s decision at midnight Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran’s poor.
Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the US costs $2.60 by comparison.
Violence broke out Friday night in Sirjan, a city some 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Tehran.
The state-run IRNA news agency said “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot, but they were stopped by police.” It did not elaborate, but online videos circulating on Iranian social media purported to show a fire at the depot as sirens wailed in the background. Another showed a large crowd shouting: “Rouhani, shame on you! Leave the country alone!”
Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an Interior Ministry official in Sirjan, later told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several. He said many protesters were peaceful, but later masked men armed with guns and knives infiltrated the demonstration.
“They insisted on reaching the oil depot and creating crises,” Mahmoudabadi said.
The semi-official ISNA news agency later quoted Mahmoudabadi as saying the violence killed one person.