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With brutal crackdown, Iran convulsed by worst unrest in 40 years

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Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed — and possibly hundreds more — as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force.

It began two weeks ago with an abrupt increase of at least 50% in gasoline prices. Within 72 hours, outraged demonstrators in cities large and small were calling for an end to the Islamic Republic’s government and the downfall of its leaders.

In many places, security forces responded by opening fire on unarmed protesters. In the southwest city of Mahshahr alone, witnesses and medical personnel said, Revolutionary Guard members surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 demonstrators — mostly unarmed young men.

Altogether, between 180 to 450 people — possibly more — were killed in four days of intense violence after the gasoline price increase was announced Nov. 15, with at least 2,000 wounded and 7,000 detained, according to international rights organizations, opposition groups and local journalists.

Only now, nearly two weeks after the protests were crushed — and largely obscured by an internet blackout in the country that was lifted recently — have details corroborating the scope of killings and destruction started to dribble out.

The gas price increase, which was announced as most Iranians had gone to bed, came as Iran struggles to fill a yawning budget gap. The Trump administration sanctions, most notably their tight restrictions on exports of Iran’s oil, are a big reason for the shortfall. The sanctions are meant to pressure Iran into renegotiating the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and major world powers, which President Donald Trump abandoned, calling it too weak.

Most of the nationwide unrest seemed concentrated in neighborhoods and cities populated by low-income and working-class families, suggesting this was an uprising born in the historically loyal power base of Iran’s post-revolutionary hierarchy.

The nation’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, said that protests had erupted in 29 out of 31 provinces and 50 military bases had been attacked. The property damage also included 731 banks, 140 public spaces, nine religious centers, 70 gasoline stations, 307 vehicles, 183 police cars, 1,076 motorcycles and 34 ambulances.

The tough response to the protests appeared to signal a hardening rift between Iran’s leaders and sizable segments of the population of 83 million.

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