One killed as protests erupt after Iran hikes petrol prices

Demonstrations erupt after authorities announce surprise decision to ration petrol and raise prices by 50 percent.

Iran fuel protest
People protest against a hike in petrol prices on a highway in Tehran [WANA via Reuters]

One person has been killed in the Iranian city of Sirjan during overnight protests against a decision by authorities to ration and increase the price of petrol by at least 50 percent as part of efforts to offset the effect of crippling US sanctions.

“Unfortunately someone was killed,” the central city’s acting Governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency ISNA. He said the cause of the death and whether “the individual was shot or not” was still unclear, adding that other people were wounded in the demonstrations on Friday night.

Mahmoudabadi said “security forces did not have permission to shoot and were only allowed to fire warning shots… which they did.” He added it was a “calm gathering” that was exploited by some who “destroyed public property, damaged fuel stations and also wanted to access the oil company’s main fuel depots and set fire to them”. 

Their effort was thwarted by forces including the police, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia, ISNA quoted him as saying.

Earlier on Saturday, state news agency IRNA said “scattered” protests had also broken out overnight in other cities including Abadan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, Gachsaran, Khoramshahr, Mahshahr, Mashhad and Shiraz.

Reporting from Iran‘s capital, Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, said “sporadic gatherings across the country in various different cities” took place on Saturday morning following the overnight protests.

“People are still very much angry, saying this is absolutely unacceptable given the current economic status of the country,” she said.

Videos posted on social media from inside Iran purportedly showed protesters setting fire to buildings and clashing with riot police. In other videos protesters appeared to block roads and set fires in the streets in Tehran and some other cities. Some chanted slogans against top officials.

This is to amend image epa08002047 issued on 16 November 2019, correcting CITY to Isfahan (not: Tehran). The revised caption reads:   Iranian protesters block a highway following fuel price increase i
Iranian protesters block a highway in Isfahan [EPA] 

‘Shocked and stunned’

After months of speculation, authorities announced in the early hours of Friday that petrol will now be rationed across the country using smart fuel cards.

Vehicles for private use are to be restricted to 60 litres (16gal) of fuel monthly, while the price of petrol will jump 50 percent to 15,000 Iranian rials ($0.13 at open market rates) a litre. Any fuel purchases in excess of allotted rations will incur an additional charge of 30,000 rials ($0.26) a litre.

The moves prompted fears of households facing further economic pressure in a country whose economy is forecast to shrink by 9.5 percent this year.

Iranians, especially those getting by on low- and middle-income wages – have already taken a massive hit due to a currency crisis and an inflationary wave that formed on the back of US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump last year unilaterally withdrew Washington from a landmark nuclear deal signed between world powers and Iran in 2015.

“Iranians woke up to this news and were shocked and stunned,” Jabbari said.

“Without any warning, the prices went up drastically and many here say that this is not something they can really deal with because it will have ramifications in other aspects of their daily life, meaning that the price of bread, eggs and other goods will also rise because of this.”

Protests require prior approval from Iran’s interior ministry, though authorities routinely allow small-scale demonstrations over economic issues, especially as the country has struggled with currency devaluation.

The demonstrations, though not as widespread as the economic protests that shook the country nearly two years ago, put new pressure on the government of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhanibefore parliamentary elections in February.

A highway is blocked by vehicles as protests block the roads following fuel price increase in Tehran, Iran, 16 November 2019.  Media reported that people protested on highways after the government inc
Authorities announced in the early hours of Friday that petrol will now be rationed across the country using smart fuel cards [Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA]

‘Politically explosive’

Iranian officials say the proceeds from the initiative will not go to government coffers but will be used instead to fund subsidies for low-income families.

Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, head of the Plan and Budget Organisation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, announced that the revenues from the initiative will be distributed among 18 million households – about 60 million people – in the form of monthly cash handouts.

A family of five or more will receive 2.05 million rials (around $18). This is separate from the 445,000 rials ($3.90) that each household member is eligible to receive under Iran’s long-running monthly state cash subsidies plan.

“As in many countries, tinkering with the price of gas is politically explosive. After massive protests, the Hassan Rouhani administration was forced to back down from a 2017 plan to increase prices by 50 percent,” Henry Rome, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, told The Associated Press news agency.

“The government was clearly attuned to this risk: The latest announcement was made in the middle of the night before a weekend, it took effect immediately, and it was announced without direct consultation with lawmakers.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies