One person was killed and others injured in protests that spread Saturday across Iran after a surprise decision to impose petrol price hikes and rationing in the sanctions-hit country.
The death Friday occurred in the central city of Sirjan, where protesters tried to set a fuel depot ablaze but were thwarted by security forces, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.
Demonstrations broke out hours after it was announced the price of petrol would be increased by 50 percent for the first 60 litres and 300 percent for anything above that each month.
“Unfortunately someone was killed,” Sirjan’s acting governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi said, adding it was still unclear if the civilian had been “shot or not”.
“Security forces did not have permission to shoot and were only allowed to fire warning shots… which they did,” ISNA quoted him as saying.
It was a “calm gathering” 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”, he added.
Besides Sirjan, “scattered” protests were also held Friday in other cities including Abadan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, Gachsaran, Khoramshahr, Mahshahr, Mashhad and Shiraz, state news agency IRNA said.
Some “rioters” in Ahvaz torched a bank and in Khoramshahr “suspicious and unknown armed individuals” opened fire and injured a number of people, state television’s website said.
In other cities, protests were mostly limited to blocking traffic and were over by midnight, it added.
Police fired tear gas at protesters in some cities, state television said, without specifying when.
It accused “hostile media” of trying to use fake news and videos on social media to exaggerate protests as “large and extensive”.
Prosecutor general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri laid the blame for incidents on a “few disruptors” whose actions showed they opposed the system.
But fresh demonstrations were held Saturday in the cities of Doroud, Garmsar, Gorgan, Ilam, Karaj, Khoramabad, Mehdishahr, Qazvin, Qom, Sanandaj, Shahroud and Shiraz, IRNA said.
“Some drivers have protested the new petrol price by turning off their cars and creating traffic jams,” it added.
Iran imposed petrol rationing and raised pump prices by at least 50 percent from Friday, saying the move was aimed at helping needy citizens.
The measure was expected to generate 300 trillion rials ($2.55 billion) per annum, the authorities said.
About 60 million Iranians would receive payments ranging from 550,000 rials ($4.68) for couples to slightly more than two million rials ($17.46) for families of five or more.
Under the scheme, drivers with fuel cards would pay 15,000 rials (13 US cents) a litre for the first 60 litres of petrol bought each month, with each additional litre costing 30,000 rials.
Fuel cards were first introduced in 2007 with a view to reforming the subsidies system and curbing large-scale smuggling.
Iran’s economy has been battered since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The rial has plummeted, inflation is running at more than 40 percent and the International Monetary Fund expects Iran’s economy to contract by nine percent this year and stagnate in 2020.