Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for backing protesters in Iran on Sunday, describing a tweet from Washington’s top diplomat as “hypocritical.”
Pompeo said that the US supported the demonstrations that erupted in several cities across the country Friday after Iran’s National Oil Company (NIOPDC) announced increases of 50% to 300% in gas prices.
“Iran’s noble nation knows well that such hypocritical statements are completely void of sincere sympathy,” Mousavi responded on Sunday, according to state-run news agency IRNA.
On Saturday, Pompeo tweeted: “As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you.” He also retweeted his July 2018 statement of support for Iranians protesting against the “tyranny” of their government.
Some 100 banks and 57 shops have been set on fire in the protests, according to semi-official Mehr News quoting an Iranian security organization, and more than 1,000 protesters have been arrested, according to semi-official Fars News Agency.
“Several” people have died in the protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech Sunday. Khamenei voiced support for the fuel price increases, and suggested external forces were behind the unrest.
The government says the increase is in the interest of the country and argues it will prevent “fuel smugglers” from exporting Iran’s oil to neighboring countries.
Iran’s government also appears to have forced most of the country’s internet to shut down. On Sunday night, internet watchdog NetBlocks.org said it had been “24 hours since Iran implemented a near-total internet shutdown following hours of partial blackouts amid widespread protests.”
The White House released a statement on Sunday supporting “the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.”
“We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators. Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches,” the statement said.
The fuel price protests come nearly two years after nationwide protests last gripped Iran over economic grievances. Those demonstrations were quashed by an intense crackdown which killed over 26 protesters on the streets and arrested more than 7,000 dissidents in 2018, according to Amnesty International.
Iran’s economy has buckled under crippling US sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew from the country’s landmark nuclear deal in May 2017, unveiling a “maximum pressure” campaign to try to force changes in Tehran’s foreign policy. The country’s currency has since tanked, as prices soared and medicinal and food shortages became widespread.
The fuel hike could further exacerbate economic conditions, forcing wider price increases.
Iran, which is a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), currently has estimated proven crude oil reserves of 155.6 billion barrels, according to energy giant BP.
Earlier this month President Hassan Rouhani announced the discovery of a vast oil field containing an estimated 53 billion barrels of crude oil, which would make it Iran’s second-largest oil field.
CNN’s Sara Mazloumsaki reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Sharif Paget in Atlanta and Nada Altaher in Abu Dhabi also contributed to this report. CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi wrote from Beirut.