Deadly protests erupt over 50 per cent petrol price increase in Iran as police clash with demonstrators

Conrad Duncan
Cars block a street during a protest against a rise in gasoline prices, in the central city of Isfahan, Iran: AP

At least two people have been killed after protests erupted across Iran following a 50 per cent increase in government-set petrol prices.

Protesters blocked traffic in major cities and occasionally clashed with police on Saturday after a night of demonstrations which were punctuated by gunfire.

Iran’s government announced rationing for petrol on Friday, with prices increasing by 50 per cent for the first 60 litres of petrol purchased per month and 200 per cent on purchases above 60 litres.

The protests have put renewed pressure on the government as it deals with US sanctions following Donald Trump's decision to withdraw America from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Iranian authorities have claimed funds from the fuel price increase will help 18 million low income families and the country’s flagship news programme has blamed “saboteurs” of “vandalism” during the demonstrations.

Although the protests were largely peaceful, social media posts showed violence occurred in several instances and online videos allegedly showed police officers firing tear gas at protesters and groups of people setting fires.

In a video shared by Iranian activist Ahmad Batebi, protesters were filmed burning a billboard of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

One person was killed during demonstrations in Sirjan and a protester died in Behbahan, according to reports, while several more people have been injured.

The unrest could represent a political risk for Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, ahead of February's parliamentary elections as it shows widespread anger amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national rial currency.

Petrol in Iran is among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices rising to a minimum of 15,000 rials per litre (35p per litre, as of 15 November).

However, cheap petrol is expected by the population as the country is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves.

Violence broke out on Friday night in Sirjan, where “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot” before being stopped by police, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

A video on social media showed a large crowd shouting: “Rouhani, shame on you! Leave the country alone!”

Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an Interior Ministry official in Sirjan, told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several people.

The semi-official ISNA news agency later quoted Mr Mahmoudabadi as confirming one death from the violence.

On Saturday morning, online videos showed protesters stopping cars on major roadways across the capital of Tehran and calling for police to join them as the first snow of the season fell.

It was not immediately clear on Saturday if police had made arrests.

Iranian internet access also saw disruption and outages on Friday into Saturday, which suggested “a response to limit attendance and media coverage of the protests”, according to the internet access monitoring group NetBlocks.

Chants by protesters mirrored many from economic protests in late 2017, which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed.

Iran has long-suffered from economic problems since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which cut the country’s decades-long relationship with the US, and an eight-year war with Iraq which followed it.

The collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal and US sanctions favoured by Mr Trump have exacerbated those problems.

Henry Rome, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, told AP that after mass protests, Mr Rouhani was forced to back down from a 2017 plan to increase fuel prices by 50 per cent.

“The government was clearly attuned to this risk: The latest announcement was made in the middle of the night before a weekend,” Mr Rome said.

“It took effect immediately, and it was announced without direct consultation with lawmakers.”

Additional reporting by AP

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