Iran vowed yesterday to punish “mercenaries” arrested over a wave of street unrest sparked by a fuel price hike, as much of the country came back online after a week-long internet blackout.

Authorities say calm has been restored and have announced plans to hold a pro-government demonstration to condemn the “rioters” at Tehran’s Enghelab Square on Monday afternoon.

Citing law enforcement officials, Fars News Agency (FNA) said on Sunday that 180 ringleaders had been arrested over the street violence, which it has blamed on enemies abroad.

"We caught all the mercenaries who openly confessed they were doing mercenary work for America and, God willing, the judicial system of the country will give them maximum punishments," Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy Guards commander, was quoted as saying.

Fadavi said several people were killed during the protests after being shot at with a handgun from a close distance behind themselves, which he said indicated the shooters were among the crowds.

The Revolutionary Guards deputy commander was speaking at a gathering of female members of the Basij, a militia loyal to Iran’s establishment.

Meanwhile Amnesty International said that at least 115 demonstrators were believed to have been killed.  Iran has rejected death toll figures as “speculative.” 

The government said the fuel price hike would allow it to provide welfare payments to the needy in Iran, where many have struggled to make ends meet since the US re-imposed sanctions after withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal.

Highways were blocked, banks and gasoline stations set on fire and shops looted as the demonstrations turned violent and spread to dozens of urban centers across the country.