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Trump Accuses Iran Of Killing 'Big Numbers' In Protest Crackdown

Riot police confront protesters in the city of Urmia on November 16. One Iranian lawmaker has said more than 7,000 people were arrested during the protests.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran of killing "big numbers" of protesters following unofficial casualty numbers in the hundreds that Tehran characterized as "utter lies."

"Iran is killing perhaps thousands and thousands of people right now as we speak, that it why they cut off the Internet so people can't see what is going on," Trump said on December 3 during a visit to London for a NATO summit.

"Not just small numbers which are bad, big numbers which are really bad, and really big numbers.... It is a terrible thing and the world has to be watching," he added.

The chief of Tehran's police on December 3 said four "key perpetrators" in the demonstrations against a sharp hike in gas prices across the country had been arrested and that the process of identifying other people involved in the disturbances continued.

Meanwhile, in a thinly veiled reference to figures announced a day earlier by rights group Amnesty International that at least 208 people are believed to have been killed during last month's crackdown on the protests, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili rejected the high death-toll estimates.

The extent of the crackdown against the days of protests over fuel-price hikes of up to 200 percent remains unclear, mainly due to a near-total Internet blackout imposed by the authorities for several days.

Authorities have yet to published any definitive official death toll for the unrest that broke out on the evening of November 15 and saw protesters attack police stations, torch gas stations, and loot shops.

Amnesty last week put the death toll at 161.

"I explicitly announce that the numbers and figures that are being given by hostile groups are utter lies and the statistics have serious differences with what they announced," judiciary spokesman Esmaili said in remarks broadcast live on state television.

"They announced some numbers as well as some names.... Their claimed numbers are sheer lies and fabricated," he added.

Iranian lawmaker Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, who sits on the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, was quoted as saying the authorities arrested more than 7,000 people.

Iran's clerical establishment has blamed the unrest on "thugs" backed by its foreign foes, including the United States and its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.