Reuters: Iran’s supreme leader on Saturday threw his weight behind a gasoline rationing scheme which sparked angry protests and left more than a dozen petrol stations burnt out in the world’s fourth largest oil exporter. TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader on Saturday threw his weight behind a gasoline rationing scheme which sparked angry protests and left more than a dozen petrol stations burnt out in the world’s fourth largest oil exporter.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority under its system of clerical rule, hailed the government’s “bravery” in a speech to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and senior officials, state television reported.
Despite huge energy reserves, the Islamic Republic has limited refining capacity and imports 40 percent of its fuel needs, a sensitive issue when world powers are threatening new U.N. sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Seeking to rein in costly imports and soaring consumption of heavily-subsidised fuel, the government in May raised the litre price by 25 percent and on Wednesday launched a delayed plan to ration the sale of gasoline.
Many motorists complained the amount of fuel they are allowed to buy, just 100 litres a month, is not enough and some lawmakers have called for a review of the allowances.
But Khamenei, who has also previously defended the government against criticism on some issues, made clear he backed the move.
“The issue of gasoline is one of these actions which the government bravely made a decision about,” he was quoted as saying. “And of course, by studying all of its aspects, (the implementation of) this decision should continue.”
Critics say the government needed to act to put a brake on demand but that raising the price would be more efficient than artificially restricting the sale of gasoline.
They say the announcement that rationing would start just hours beforehand added to public anger, leading to the torching of 19 petrol stations on Tuesday, according to media reports.
Khamenei suggested the money Iran could save through the scheme — gasoline imports cost it $5 billion last year — should be used to improve living conditions.
“If this huge amount decreases eventually, certainly it will be spent on issues related to people’s lives, employment and building roads and schools,” he said.
The government has not said if drivers will be allowed to buy fuel above their allocation at a higher price than the subsidised rationed price of 1,000 rials (11 U.S. cents) per litre. If not, analysts say a black market is inevitable.
Ahmadinejad’s economic management has faced mounting criticism from the public and the media.
Some 57 economists said in a open letter this month government policies were fuelling price rises and failing to deliver the fairer society he promised when he came to power.
The United States, which is leading efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear plans, has said Iran’s gasoline imports are a point of “leverage”. Washington accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.