DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that its security forces shot and killed protesters across the country to put down demonstrations last month over the sharply spiking price of gasoline, the deadliest unrest to hit the country since the turmoil of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A report by Iranian state television sought to portray those killed as “rioters” or foreign-backed insurgents who threatened military posts, oil tanks and the public. It acknowledged that the violence also killed passers-by, security forces and peaceful protesters without assigning blame.

However, online videos of demonstrations purport to show security forces firing machine guns and rifles at crowds. Amnesty International believes the unrest beginning in mid-November and crackdown that followed killed at least 208 people. An Iranian judiciary official disputed the toll Tuesday as “sheer lies,” without offering any evidence to support his position.

The demonstrations show the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers. Trump himself, speaking to journalists before a NATO summit in London, claimed without evidence Iran has killed “thousands.”

The demonstrations followed months of attacks across the Middle East that the U.S. blames on Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran has begun breaking the limits of the nuclear deal in hopes of pressuring Europe into finding a way for Tehran to sell its crude oil abroad despite the American sanctions.

The state TV report alleged that some of those killed were “rioters who have attacked sensitive or military centers with firearms or knives or have taken hostages in some areas.” Some sought to access arsenals inside the police and military posts, the report said.

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