Rouhani calls for release of unarmed civilians arrested during protest
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday called for unarmed civilians arrested during weeks of protests against a rise in fuel prices to be released as tensions continue to simmer across the country.
Countrywide protests began when Tehran increased the price of fuel by nearly 300 percent as US sanctions drastically impacted the government's foreign earnings.
The price increase prompted protests in over 100 cities with demonstrators calling for Iran's religious leaders to step down, while rioters attacked public buildings.
"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 during a televised speech.
During the unrest, the country also experienced internet blackouts as Tehran battled to control the narrative and prevent protest footage from being posted online.
Amnesty International said it had documented at least 106 deaths of protestors by security forces, making it the worst street unrest in Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Earlier this week, Iranian authorities confirmed for the first time that security forces had killed protestors during the weeks of unrest.
State TV said: "Rioters were armed with knives and weapons. They had taken people hostage by closing all roads in some areas. Security forces had no other choice but to firmly confront them...and rioters were killed in clashes."
Iran has blamed opposition leaders in exile and its foreign adversaries - Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States - for helping foment the unrest.
"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 Iranians," the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami said in a televised speech.
An Iranian politician said last week that about 7,000 protesters had been arrested. The judiciary has rejected the figures.
The Intelligence Ministry has said that at least eight people linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been arrested during the unrest, which was crushed last week by a security crackdown.
Economic hardship for Iranians worsened after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions and withdrew the United States from Tehran's nuclear deal.
"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.
Iran has since begun to scale back its commitment to the nuclear deal and warned its European partners it would continue to distance itself from the agreement if the EU fails to circumvent US sanctions against Tehran.
Washington has ruled out lifting sanctions unless Iran further curbs its nuclear work, ends its ballistic missile programme and its regional involvement.