People protest against increased gas price, on a highway in Tehran, Iran November 16, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia…
FILE - People protest against increased gas price, on a highway in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 16, 2019.

Iran's supreme leader backed Sunday a government decision to increase fuel prices which sparked deadly protests over the weekend.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed "thugs" for damaging property in protests that left at least two people dead. His comments come as the government shut off internet across Iran in an attempt to quell protests over the raising of government-set gasoline prices by 50%.

In a televised address to the nation, Khamenei said "some lost their lives" without elaborating. He also ordered security forces "to implement their tasks.''

After his remarks, the Intelligence Ministry said "key perpetrators of the past two days' riot have been identified and proper action is ongoing.''

The statements might mean that a major crackdown in looming.

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei talks to clerics in his Islamic thoughts class in Tehran, Nov. 17, 2019.

The protests have put renewed pressure on Iran's government as it struggles to overcome the U.S. sanctions strangling the country after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

State news agency IRNA reported that one police officer was killed on Saturday. The semi-official Fars news agency said 1,000 protesters had been arrested.

The Trump administration lashed out at Iran Sunday. "Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches,'' the White House statement said.

The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following President Hassan Rouhani's decision early Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran's poor.

Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. That is 13 cents a liter, about five times lower than the cost of gasoline in the United States by comparison.

Special Project

More Coverage