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Demonstrations have occurred in numerous Iranian cities following a 50% increase in the price of petrol, a decision which has highlighted the worsening economic conditions facing the country due to US imposed sanctions. According to the BBC, protests occurred in many major cities, including the capital Tehran. Two people were killed – one in the city of Sirjan and one in the city of Behbahan. As reported by Reuters, a local official stated on state TV that several people are also believed to have been injured in attacks which targeted banks and police stations throughout the country.
Although mostly peaceful, it will concern the authorities in Tehran that demonstrations in some areas quickly became both violent and anti-government. According to the Guardian, demonstrations in many cities became mired in violence, an example being Khorramshahr in the Khuzestan province, where gunfire was reported to be heard. The newspaper also reported that chants protesting against President Hassan Rouhani could be heard in Sirjan.
In announcing the decision to decrease the subsidies on petrol, the government said the move had been necessary in order to help struggling families. As reported by the BBC, the Iranian government has estimated that 18 million families will benefit from the decision. Meanwhile in response to the protesters, interior minister Mohammad Mahmoudabadi appeared on State television, blaming “masked men armed with guns and knives”, as being the main instigators, as reported by the Guardian. He also confirmed reports that demonstrators had tried to set fire to an oil depot in the city of Sirjan, which led to clashes with police and security forces.
Reuters has reported that the Tehran government also turned off the country’s internet, a tactic which was also used following the last spate of protests in 2017. 5,000 people were arrested and 25 people killed, as a result of the heavy handed tactics which have come to define Iran’s response to popular dissent. Already there is a concern that a government crackdown could occur again. In developments on Sunday morning, the Iranian interior ministry warned protesters that security forces would be deployed if ‘illegal’ actions persisted.
An important distinction, however, is that whereas until now the Iranian working class had been the ones most affected by the deteriorating economic conditions, the decision to raise petrol prices will likely have a disproportionate impact on the country’s middle class population, a group which according to the New York Times is, relatively speaking, ‘politically influential’. It is the action taken by this middle class population, which will determine whether the protests on Saturday are simply a one off, or whether they prove to be symptomatic of growing resentment from the Iranian public towards the country’s economic hardships. What can be said with certainty however, is that with no sign yet of US imposed sanctions letting up, the economic situation in the country is likely to get worse.