soaring staple food prices prompt suppressed protests

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Hundreds of people took to the streets in several cities across Iran to protest the government’s decision to raise the prices of basic necessities, state media reported on Friday. The authorities have announced around twenty arrests in the south of the country.

Iranian authorities have arrested at least 22 demonstrators protesting the sudden rise in staple food prices in several cities in southern Iran, state media reported early Friday (May 13th).

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi announced on Monday a series of measures to deal with the country’s economic difficulties, in particular the modification of a system of subsidies and the increase in the prices of several basic products such as cooking oil. Iranians reacted to the decisions – which took effect on Friday – by taking to the streets in several cities over the past two days, state news agency IRNA reported.

For some foods, such as cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk, prices have soared 300% as food costs soar across the Middle East due to the collapse of the global supply chain and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the main food exporter.


Arrests and disrupted internet

The IRNA agency indicated that 15 demonstrators were arrested on Thursday night in the city of Dezful, located in the province of Khuzestan (southwest), where the largest demonstration took place, bringing together nearly 300 people. Seven other arrests took place in the town of Yasuj, in the province of Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad (south).

The report also said 200 people gathered in Andimeshk, another town in Khuzestan, where a firefighter was injured after protesters threw stones at police and firefighters. The situation calmed down in all regions on Friday, IRNA added.

Just before the protests, UK-based organization NetBlocks, which tracks global internet outages, said internet disruptions had been reported across the country as the government prepared for possible unrest.

Footage circulating widely on social media showed several other protests in Khuzestan, some turning violent with protesters burning tires and police firing tear gas to disperse them.

“We could see on these videos very violent demonstrations, with attacks against the bases of the Islamist militias – the famous bassij – or even against mosques and public buildings, or even shopping centers which were looted by demonstrators. “, says Siavosh Ghazi, France 24 correspondent in Tehran. The authenticity of these videos is being verified.

Compensation measures offered to low-income families

Earlier this week, the Iranian president announced that his government would reform a subsidy system put in place by the previous administration in 2018, which covered several basic products. But he had pledged that the price of bread, gasoline and medicine would remain unchanged.

The Iranian government, fearing the protest movement, immediately proposed compensation measures. Thus, Ebrahim Raïssi had declared that payments equivalent to approximately 10 or 13 dollars would be paid each month for each member of the family of low-income households.

After his announcement, people rushed to supermarkets to stock up in panic, according to videos shared on social media and images broadcast by state television.


Smuggling and the effect of the war in Ukraine

Meanwhile, Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has driven many farmers away from fields, and nearly half of its wheat from Russia. The smuggling of Iranian bread – a heavily subsidized food – to neighboring countries Iraq and Afghanistan has intensified as hunger spreads in the region.

For the Iranian authorities, the compensatory measures announced after the price increase also aim to prevent this smuggling, particularly in flour and wheat to Afghanistan and Pakistan, or even Turkey, specifies Siavosh Ghazi.

Drought is already ravaging Iran’s economy and Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program have caused further hardship. Inflation has soared to nearly 40%, reaching its highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. According to the Iranian Statistics Center, some 30% of households currently live below the poverty line.

Memories of the rise in fuel prices in November 2019 have marked people’s minds. Large-scale demonstrations, the most violent since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, then shook the country and were very violently repressed by the police.

With AP and AFP

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