Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have vowed a “decisive” response to disperse mass protests over a 50% rise in petrol prices, amid unconfirmed claims of the killing of dozens of demonstrators.

The Guards said in a statement on Monday: “Continuation of any measure, which would foment insecurity, and all actions targeting the calm and tranquility in the society will be dealt with decisively.”

The military’s declaration follows a series of escalating warnings by regime officials, unsettled by the response to the cut in petrol subsidy that was suddenly implemented at midnight on Friday.

On Sunday the Supreme Leader insisted “the decision must be implemented” and lashed out at “rebellious, malicious, disreputable people” whom he insisted were backed by the US, relatives of the late Shah, and the “heretics” of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, which has sought the regime’s overthrow since 1979.

President Rouhani pronounced, “It will be unacceptable to misuse the people’s right to protest.” On Monday, the Foreign Ministry and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani reduced the protests to the US “setting fire to the wealth” of Iran.

Iran Daily, Nov 18: Rouhani and Supreme Leader on Petrol Protests — “We Will Not Tolerate Insecurity”

The Guards echoed Ayatollah Khamenei’s blame of “counter-revolutionary elements”, the MKO, and monarchists. It insisted the Iranian people had “distanced themselves from saboteurs, turned the table against those elements, and thwarted their plans to spread insecurity across the country”.

The Government has raised the price of subsidized petrol from 10,000 rials to 15,000 rials (12.7 US cents) per liter. The monthly ration for each private car is now 60 liters per month — with the price at 30,000 rials per liter after that.

Authorities are trying to combat fuel smuggling to neighboring countries amid comprehensive US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. The Government is also facing budget difficulties with the fall in exports of between 80% and 95%.

Killings in Behbahan

Officials acknowledged the deaths of 12 people. Unconfirmed claims said up to 40 protesters have been killed. Iranian media announced that “hundreds” of demonstrators have been arrested”
The Guards’ Fars News put the number of arrests at 1,000 and said 100 banks — a target for those angered by a corruption issue which has fueled regime in-fighting — and 57 shops were burnt.

Citing eyewitnesses, IranWire reported that at least eight people were killed in and near the city of Behbahan in Khuzestan Province in southwest Iran.

A police officer told the site that he and other officers were ordered not to hand over the bodies of the slain to families, hoping to avoid further unrest. He said protesters had attacked several officers, two of whom are in critical condition, and had set large fires at at government buildings and banks.

See Iran Daily, Nov 11: Rouhani v. Hardliners Over Corruption

Government officials acknowledged that one demonstrator was shot dead, but Radio Farda says four families have announced the death of relatives.

There are also reports of killings in Shiraz and Shahryar.

The Internet and electricity have been sharply restricted and even shut down in cities such as Behbahan.

A resident of Behbahan said the city was “in a state of war” on Sunday:

All the corridors of the hospital were full of bloody, wounded people and people with broken bones. They were either sitting on chairs or in the middle of the hallway, and of course there was a pronounced police presence in the hospital. One nurse said they had arrived to identify the injured and to transfer them to the detention center after treatment was completed.

Another described his father’s car riddled with 20 bullets, saying it was probable that people had been hit as well.