0111 GMT December 12, 2019
A surprise decision by the Iranian government to impose gasoline price hikes and rationing in the country sparked protests in several cities across the country.
The demonstrations broke out on Friday, hours after it was announced that the price of gasoline would be hiked by 50 percent for the first 60 liters and 300 percent for anything above that each month.
On person lost his life in the central city of Sirjan in Kerman Province, where people tried to set fire to a fuel depot but were thwarted by security forces.
"Unfortunately someone was killed," Sirjan's acting governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi said in the report, adding that the cause of the death and whether "the individual was shot or not" was still unclear, according to ISNA.
He said several people were also wounded when masked armed men infiltrated the protests in Sirjan and clashed with security forces.
Mahmoudabadi emphasized that "security forces did not have permission to shoot and were only allowed to fire warning shots... which they did."
It was a "calm gathering" that was 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 said.
Protests in other cities
Besides Sirjan, the protests were also held on Friday in other cities including Abadan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, Gachsaran, Khorramshahr, Mahshahr, Mashhad and Shiraz, IRNA said.
But they were mostly limited to blocking traffic and were over by midnight, IRNA reported.
The protests continued on Saturday. In the capital Tehran, people blocked traffic to protest the government’s decision.
Demonstrations were also held in the cities of Doroud, Garmsar, Gorgan, Ilam, Karaj, Khoramabad, Mehdishahr, Qazvin, Qom, Sanandaj, Shahroud and Shiraz on Saturday, IRNA said.
Iran imposed gasoline rationing and raised pump prices by at least 50 percent on Friday, saying the move was aimed at helping citizens in need with cash handouts.
The measure was expected to bring in 300 trillion rials ($2.55 billion) per annum, the head of the country's Planning and Budget Organization, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, said on state television.
Payments to people in need
About 60 million Iranians in need would get payments ranging from 550,000 rials ($4.68) for couples to slightly more than two million rials ($17.46) for families with five members or more, he said.
Under the scheme, drivers with fuel cards will pay 15,000 rials (13 US cents) a liter for the first 60 liters of petrol bought each month, with each additional liter costing them 30,000 rials.
Fuel cards were first introduced in 2007 with a view to reforming the subsidies system and curbing large-scale smuggling.
President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday that currently 75 percent of Iranians were "under pressure" and the extra revenues from the gasoline price hike would go to them, and not the treasury.
"Increasing petrol prices is to the people's benefit and also to help the society's strata under (economic) pressure," Rouhani told a cabinet meeting, according to IRNA.
"No one should imagine that the government has done this because it is economically struggling; not at all, not a rial of this will go to the treasury," he added.
Rouhani had tried to hike fuel prices in December but was blocked by the parliament.
The rationing and price hike come at a sensitive time as Iran prepares for a parliamentary election in February.
According to Nobakht, the price hike was agreed by the High Council of Economic Coordination, made up of the president, parliament speaker and judiciary chief, implying it had received the system's approval across the board.
On Saturday, members of the parliament protested the government’s decision, saying they will submit a bill to revise the controversial move, Press TV reported.
Mojtaba Zonnour, a member of Iranian Parliament’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, said on Saturday that he and other lawmakers in the parliament will oppose the fuel price hike mainly because it had not been coordinated with the parliament.
Iranians mainly rely on cars or taxis for access around cities and towns. The government said the cost of using taxis and public transport will not change, according to media reports.
Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told state TV on Friday that the measure was aimed at “reining in soaring consumption, exporting gasoline and helping needy families”.
Ulta-low prices have led to high consumption, with Iran's 80-million population buying an average of 90 million liters per day, according to IRNA.
They have also fueled high levels of smuggling – estimated at around 10 to 20 million liters per day. Smuggling has intensified due to the rial's drop in value.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.