TEHRAN, Iran — Thousands of supporters of Iran’s government converged on a square in the capital Tehran on Monday to condemn days of “rioting” that the Islamic Republic blames on its foreign foes.
Waving the Iranian flag and banners that read “Death to America,” they marched from all directions towards Tehran’s Enghelab (Revolution) Square.
In a shock announcement 10 days ago, Iran raised the price of gasoline by up to 200 percent, triggering nationwide protests in a country whose economy has been battered by US sanctions.
Officials say the demonstrations turned violent because of the intervention of “thugs” backed by royalists and Iran’s arch-enemies — the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
AFP correspondents said the square was filling up quickly Monday with young and old, including clerics carrying portraits of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
State television showed live footage of people gathered for the demonstration.
The rally was to be addressed by Major General Hossein Salami, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which helped put down the unrest.
Ahead of the rally, Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the “interference of foreign countries” in the street violence.
“We recommend they watch the rallies taking place these days in our country so they realize who the real people are in our country,” spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.
An SMS urging people to attend the demonstration was sent to citizens on Sunday evening, amid an ongoing internet outage imposed during the unrest.
The message called on “Tehran’s wise and revolutionary people” to take part in the demonstration to condemn “American-Israeli riots.”
The near-total internet blackout came at the height of the street unrest in a step seen as aimed at curbing the spread of videos of the violence.
Connectivity has returned for much of the country except for its mobile telephone networks, said NetBlocks, a website that monitors global internet disruptions.
NetBlocks said connectivity on Irancell was running at 100%, but two other key mobile service providers — MCI and RighTel — were down at 1% and 21% respectively.
The unrest erupted hours after a midnight announcement that the price of petrol would be immediately raised by 50% for the first 60 liters and 200% for any extra fuel after that each month.
President Hassan Rouhani said the proceeds would allow his government to provide welfare payments to the needy in Iran.
During the violence, dozens of banks, gasoline pumps and police stations were torched across the Islamic Republic.
Officials have confirmed five people were killed, but the death toll is thought to be much higher.
The United Nations said it feared that dozens died, while Amnesty International said more than 100 were believed to have been killed.
Authorities say they arrested 180 ringleaders.
The total number of people detained over the unrest remains unclear, but the UN human rights office put it at more than 1,000 on Tuesday.
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, deputy commander in chief of the Guards, on Sunday warned Iran would severely punish “mercenaries” arrested over the violence.
Iran has blamed the unrest on the Pahlavi royal family ousted in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and armed opposition group the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, which it considers a “terrorist” cult.