Nationwide protests in Iran against fuel price rises have resulted in more than 40 arrests and one police officer reportedly killed, as Iranian authorities warned of a strong response.
Protesters took to the streets of key cities across the country on Saturday in response to moves by the government to ration fuel and increase the price of petrol.
Iran’s government, caught in the midst of a deep economic crisis triggered by the U.S. sanctions, announced it was raising fuel prices late on Friday.
Now faced with paying three times as much in fuel costs, many Iranians have called for an immediate repeal of the price hike, amid fears of a deepening economic crisis and a halving in the value of the national currency.
News agency ISNA reported on Sunday that a police officer was killed during clashes between security forces and protesters in the western city of Kermanshah.
The Iranian secret service said it would take strong action against protesters taking part in vandalism.
State news agency IRNA cited the Intelligence Ministry as saying that it would “spare no efforts” in its efforts to safeguard national security.
The attorney general issued a similar warning to demonstrators on Saturday in comments carried by ISNA.
“The instigators are undoubtedly being directed from abroad and their actions are illegal and criminal,’’ Attorney General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended the rationing and price rises.
“The political leadership of the country reached a technical decision, which should logically be then put into practice,’’ he said.
He added, however, that “authorities should use all their capacities to minimise people’s concerns over this (gasoline rationing) plan,’’ according to Mehr news agency.
Internet services have been unavailable for many since protests escalated on Saturday evening.
The Telecommunications Ministry said that online access had been “limited” for 24 hours on the orders of the National Security Council.
The Iranian parliament was holding a special sitting on Sunday to discuss the protests, but media reports suggest that the government has refused to delay the price rises.
According to the plan, Iranians will only be able to refuel only up to 60 litres of petrol per month at a litre price equivalent to 0.13 dollars.
Additional petrol incurs a higher price of between 24 and 30 cents, nearly the triple the previous price.
Many Iranians, who say 60 litres per month will not be enough, are, therefore, now faced with paying a higher petrol price.