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Saturday February 24th, 2018 10:50PM

The Latest: Iran says 3 soldiers killed near Iraq border

By The Associated Press
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The Latest on protests in Iran (all times local):

9:50 p.m.

Iranian state media are saying that three soldiers have been killed in clashes with an "armed terrorist group" in a Kurdish area near the Iraqi border.

Thursday's reports cited a statement by the Intelligence Department saying one of the militants was also killed and several were wounded.

It said the clashes took place near the Kurdish town of Piranshar, about 730 kilometers, or 450 miles, northwest of the capital, Tehran.

The statement did not elaborate on the affiliation of the militants or say when the fighting happened.

The region near the borders with Iraq and Turkey has been the scene of occasional clashes with Kurdish separatist groups as well as extremist Islamic militants.

___

7 p.m.

Iran's prosecutor general has directly named a CIA official as being the "main designer" of the protests that have shaken the country. The Trump administration has denied having any hand in the protests and the CIA declined to comment.

Mohammad Jafar Montazeri's comments Thursday, carried by the state-run IRNA news agency, said the CIA official headed an operation that had Israeli and Saudi support.

Montazeri alleged that the CIA planned to turn the protest into an "armed" insurrection by mid-February, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A senior Trump administration official on Wednesday disputed the notion that the U.S. played any role in instigating the unrest in Iran, saying the United States had not expected them to occur.

The official said: "The protests were entirely spontaneously generated."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

___

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed.

___

5:45 p.m.

Iran's interior minister is saying at most some 42,000 people took part in the week of protests that roiled the Islamic Republic.

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said in a statement Thursday that the figure was "based on precise statistics we have."

Fazli said the continuation of the protests during the past week was because of the "leniency, restrain, tolerance and interaction" of the government. He did not elaborate.

This is the first time authorities have given a figure for the total number of participants in the protests.

On Wednesday, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the chief of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, said the biggest gathering included some 1,500 protesters.

The protest began last Thursday in Mashhad and quickly extended to other cities. Unrest surrounding them has killed at least 21 people.

___

10 a.m.

Claims of more protests in Iran have dropped overnight after a week of unrest that killed at least 21 people.

It wasn't immediately clear if the drop on Thursday meant that the demonstrations are subsiding or that the Iranian government's blocking of social media apps has stopped protesters from offering new images of rallies.

In Tehran, streets were calm and clear at the start of the Iranian weekend.

On Wednesday, Iranian state media covered massive pro-government rallies in dozens of cities across the Islamic Republic.

The protests began on Dec. 28, sparked by Iran's flagging economy and a rise in food prices, before morphing over the following days into calls for the downfall of Iran's theocratic government.

Hundreds have been arrested by authorities over the unrest.

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