DUBAI, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Iran on Thursday began restoring internet access in the capital Tehran and a number of provinces, local news agencies and residents said, after a days-long nationwide shutdown meant to help stifle unrest over fuel price hikes.
The Revolutionary Guards said calm had returned across Iran, state TV reported, after protests in which 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 was only partial so far, covering about 10% of the country.
Local news agencies and residents said only fixed line internet, not mobile internet, was partially restored after the five-day shutdown.
The unrest erupted on Nov. 15 after the government announced gasoline price hikes of at least 50%. Protests began in several provincial towns before spreading to some 100 cities and towns across the Islamic Republic. They quickly turned political with protesters demanding top officials to step down.
In Washington, 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”.
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”.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; additional reporting by Dubai newsroom and Andrea Shalal in Washington Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)