November 21, 2019 / 1:16 PM / 19 days ago

Iran begins reconnecting internet after shutdown over protests

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran on Thursday began restoring internet access in the capital Tehran and a number of provinces, news agencies and residents said, after a five-day-long nationwide shutdown meant to help stifle protests against fuel price hikes.

Riot police tries to disperse people as they protest on a highway against increased gas price in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

The Revolutionary Guards said calm had returned across Iran, state TV reported. Amnesty International said over 100 demonstrators had been killed by security forces, a figure rejected as “speculative” by the government.

“The internet is being gradually restored in the country,” the semi-official news agency Fars said, quoting unidentified informed sources.

Fars quoted the sources as saying the National Security Council that had ordered the shutdown approved reactivating the internet in “some areas and, according to reports so far, fixed line internet has been restored in Hormozgan, Kermanshah, Arak, Mashhad, Qom, Tabriz, Hamadan and Bushehr provinces, and parts of Tehran”.

“We again have internet as of an hour ago,” a retired engineer, who declined to be named, said by telephone from Tehran.

The internet blockage made it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support and also to obtain reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said the restoration of connectivity in Iran covered only about 10% of Iran.

News agencies and residents said only fixed line internet, not mobile internet, was partially restored.

Protests began on Nov. 15 in several provincial towns after the government announced gasoline price hikes of at least 50%. They spread to 100 cities and towns and quickly turned political with protesters demanding top officials step down.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday criticised Iran for blocking the internet.

“Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country,” Trump tweeted.

“They want ZERO transparency, thinking the world will not find out the death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!,” he added.

The International Monetary Fund said it regretted the violence and loss of life during the protests and had not discussed the gasoline price hike with Iran.

IMF spokeswoman Camilla Andersen added: “In general, the IMF continues to advise oil-producing countries in the Middle East and Central Asia region to reduce fuel subsidies ... while compensating the poor with targeted cash transfers, which we understand is the approach Iran has taken.”

On Thursday, state TV showed thousands marching in pro-government rallies in a dozen cities, carrying national flags and signs with slogans including “Rioting is not protesting”.

People attend a protest to support the demonstrations in Iran against the rise in gasoline prices outside the Embassy of Iran in Helsinki, Finland, November 21, 2019, Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS

Amnesty International said it had documented at least 106 protesters killed by security forces, which would make it the worst street unrest in Iran in at least a decade and possibly since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s U.N. mission on Wednesday dismissed the casualty report as “speculative, not reliable”.

Iranian authorities said several people, including members of the security forces and policemen, were killed in street violence, which Tehran blamed on “foreign foes”.

Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; additional reporting by Dubai newsroom, Andrea Shalal and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Giles Elgood and Grant McCool

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