Iran: Rouhani calls for release of 'innocent, unarmed' protesters
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has called for the release of any unarmed and innocent people arrested during the protests against fuel price increases after two weeks of violent clashes.
The unrest, which began on November 15 after the government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300 percent, spread to more than 100 Iranian cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded the religious leaders step down.
"Religious and Islamic clemency should be shown and those innocent people who protested against petrol price hikes and were not armed ... should be released," Rouhani said in a televised speech on Wednesday.
Iran's religious 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 aim of our enemies was to endanger the existence of the Islamic republic by igniting riots in Iran... But America and the Zionist regime [Israel] lack political wisdom about Iran and the Iranians," said the chief commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, in another televised speech last week.
Tehran has given no official death toll, but Amnesty International on Monday said it documented the deaths of at least 208 protesters, making the disturbances the bloodiest since the 1979 uprising that swept the Shia leaders to power.
Iran rejected the rights group's claim, calling it "biased".
An Iranian legislator said last week that about 7,000 protesters had been arrested. The country's judiciary, however, rejected the figures.
Last week, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence said at least eight people linked to the CIA were arrested during the unrest, which was snuffed out by a security crackdown.
'Ready to talk if US lifts sanctions'
The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Tehran's nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have further crippled Iran's oil-based economy.
The United Kingdom, China, France, Russia and Germany were the other signatories to the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
"If America lifts the sanctions, we are ready to talk and negotiate, even at the level of heads of the 5+1 countries [major powers]," Rouhani said.
In reaction to Washington's "maximum pressure", Iran has gradually scaled back its nuclear commitments and has warned of further distancing from the pact if the European powers fail to shield Tehran's economy from the US penalties.
Washington has ruled out lifting sanctions unless Iran further curbs its nuclear work, ends its ballistic missile programme and its the regional proxy wars.
Iran began reducing its commitments to the deal hoping to win concessions from those still party to the accord.
Its latest step back came last month, when Iranian engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant south of Tehran.