Angered by rise of government-set petrol prices by 50 percent, Iranians took to the streets to protest, blocking traffic in major cities and clashing with police. At least one protester died after the night of demonstrations was punctuated by gunfire.
The protests put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome the US sanctions strangling the country after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the country from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Though largely peaceful, demonstrations turned violent in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing teargas at protesters and mobs setting fires.
While representing a political risk for the president, Hassan Rouhani, before February’s parliamentary elections, the protests show the widespread anger among Iran’s population of 80 million who have seen their savings evaporate, job scarcity and the collapse of the national currency, the rial.
The demonstrations took place in more than a dozen cities in the hours following Rouhani’s decision at midnight on Friday to cut petrol subsidies to fund support for Iran’s poor. Petrol in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with prices jumping to a minimum of 15,000 Rials per litre – 50 percent up from the day before.
Iran is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. While expected for months, the decision to raise petrol prices still caught many by surprise and sparked immediate demonstrations overnight.
Violence broke out Friday night in Sirjan, a city 800km (500 miles) south-east of Tehran. The state-run IRNA news agency said: “Protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot, but they were stopped by police.”
Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an interior ministry official in Sirjan, later told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several people. He said many protesters were peaceful, but later masked men armed with guns and knives infiltrated the demonstration. “They insisted on reaching the oil depot and creating crises,” Mahmoudabadi said.
The semi-official ISNA news agency later quoted Mahmoudabadi as saying one person was killed in the violence.
On Saturday morning, the start of the Iranian working week, protesters stopped cars on major roadways across the capital, Tehran. Peaceful protesters blocked traffic on the city’s Imam Ali Highway, calling for police to join them as the season’s first snow fell, according to online videos.
Protester chants mirrored many from the late 2017 economic protests, which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. Some criticised Iran’s spending abroad on Palestinians and others while the country’s people remain poor.
Demonstrations meanwhile continue in Iraq and Lebanon, two Mideast nations that are home to Iranian proxies and crucial to Tehran’s influence abroad. (Source: The Guardian)