Iran will severely punish "mercenaries" arrested over a wave of street violence that erupted after a sharp hike in fuel prices, a Revolutionary Guards commander warned Sunday.
Tehran claims it has restored calm after the unrest that broke out on November 15, hours after the surprise announcement that petrol prices would go up by as much as 200 percent.
Citing law enforcement officials, Fars news agency said Sunday that 180 ringleaders had been arrested over the protests that saw highways blocked, banks and police stations set alight and shops looted.
"We will certainly respond in accordance to the viciousness carried out by them," said Rear-Admiral Ali Fadavi, deputy commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards.
"We have arrested all stooges and mercenaries who have explicitly made confessions that they have been mercenaries of America, of Monafeghin and others," he told a news conference in Tehran.
Monafeghin is a term Iran uses to refer to the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) opposition in exile group, which it considers a "terrorist" cult.
Fadavi added that "we have arrested all of them and, God willing, the judiciary will give them maximum punishments".
Rights group Amnesty International said in a release earlier this week that security forces shot into crowds of protesters from rooftops and, in one case, from a helicopter.
Amnesty said at least 115 people have died in the unrest. Iran has rejected death toll figures as “speculative”.
The total number of people arrested over the unrest remained unclear, but the UN human rights office put the figure at more than 1,000 on Tuesday.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group, said on its website that a tally based on official figures and credible reports suggested that “a minimum of 2,755 people have been arrested with the actual minimum number likely being closer to 4,000”.
With tensions over the gasoline price increases remaining high, some 50 lawmakers have submitted a proposal to parliament that could ultimately lead to the impeachment of Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh.
“Parliament’s presiding board has received the censure motion against Zanganeh over various issues including ... gasoline price hikes,” said a member of the presiding board Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, the website of Iran’s Young Journalists Club reported.
It was not immediately clear whether the lawmakers would go through with the motion or eventually withdraw it as has happened in some previous cases.
Iran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to exiles and foreign foes - the United States and Israel - for stirring up unrest which has led to some of the worst violence in the country in a decade.