Iran General NewsProtests flare in Iran over petrol rationing

Protests flare in Iran over petrol rationing

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AFP: Angry Iranian youths torched petrol stations in Tehran and long queues formed at fuel pumps after the government announced the start of fuel rationing, triggering nationwide protests on Wednesday. by Farhad Pouladi

TEHRAN, June 27, 2007 (AFP) – Angry Iranian youths torched petrol stations in Tehran and long queues formed at fuel pumps after the government announced the start of fuel rationing, triggering nationwide protests on Wednesday.

Youths set a car and petrol pumps ablaze at a service station in the residential Pounak area of northwestern Tehran, throwing stones and shouting angry slogans denouncing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

After the announcement of the rationing plan in the energy-rich nation, which affects both private cars and taxis, long queues started appearing at fuel pumps in Tehran and in the countryside.

Ahmadinejad has already come under fire over his economic policies, which a group of economists complained earlier this month were fuelling inflation and hurting the poor.

Iran, OPEC’s number two oil producer, announced on Tuesday that its long-awaited plan to ration petrol was coming into force at midnight, a move the government says is aimed at reducing colossal state petrol subsidies.

“From midnight tonight (2030 GMT) petrol for all vehicles and motorcycles will be rationed,” state television said, quoting an oil ministry statement.

It said private cars using just petrol would be rationed to 100 litres of petrol a month while those using petrol and compressed natural gas (CNG) would only be allowed 30 litres.

The government said the rationing would continue for four months and might be extended further to six months.

Separate quotas have also been introduced for both municipal yellow taxis and privatly-run taxis, both essential means of transport in Iran.

“One car… was burnt inside the petrol station which was partially on fire,” an AFP journalist at the scene in Pounak said. “The demonstrators were throwing stones. Anti-riot police deployed in the neighbouring streets intervened regularly to disperse the demonstrators before pulling back.”

According to an Iranian journalist, another petrol station in southern Tehran also came under attack.

Iran launched the first phase of the rationing plan two weeks ago, initially targeting only government vehicles.

The significance of the rationing law was only expected to be realised when it was enforced on private car owners, forcing Iranians to pay a higher price for a commodity that now costs less than a comparable amount of mineral water.

Cheap pump prices have encouraged such consumption that the OPEC number two oil producer ironically has to spend billions of dollars each year importing petrol.

Iran has already raised pump prices by 25 percent, to around 10 cents per litre, and forced consumers to use smart cards to keep track of their purchases.

However, problems in distributing the cards have delayed implementation of the rest of the plan.

Pumping gas into the cars is only possible when the smart card is inserted into the pumping machine.

Under the plan announced Tuesday, the maximum amount of petrol allowed in total for the four-month period is 400 litres for petrol-burning cars and 120 litres for those which consume both CNG and petrol. The monthly quotas can however be saved and used at a later date.

Ahmadinejad has been repeatedly criticised by the press for stoking already high inflation in the Islamic republic with high spending and promising lavish local investment projects on provincial tours.

However the president, who was elected in 2005 on a platform of distributing the country’s riches more evenly, insists inflation is under control and that the government is doing all it can to reduce poverty.

The central bank has predicted inflation will rise to 17 percent in the year to March 2008, a 3.5 percentage point rise from the previous year. Some economists expect the number to be even higher.

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