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    Iran cracks down on ‘ringleaders’ of fuel protests

    An Iranian intelligence official has threatened to crack down on leaders of protests against a recent government decision to hike fuel prices.

    Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Intelligence Ministry official said those “aiding and abetting” the protests have been identified and a strict action will be taken against them.

    “We have zeroed in on those trying to exploit the legitimate grievances of people over hike in gasoline prices and a strong action will be taken against them,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

    While describing the grievances as “legitimate”, the official said protesters should not take law into their hands by attacking public properties.

    Demonstrations have broken out across Iran since last week after the government imposed petrol rationing and raised fuel prices.

    At least two people are estimated to have been killed and several others injured in the protests against the new fuel policy, which has seen prices rise by at least 50%.

    At least 100 banks and dozens of shops have been set ablaze during the protests, the semi-official Mehr news agency said, quoting security officials.

    Though there are no official figures on the arrests, the Fars news agency said more than 1,000 protesters have been arrested.

    Earlier, President Hassan Rouhani hinted that the Iranian authorities would crack down on protesters indulging in violence. He said the people have the right to protest but the government will not allow riots.

    Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards also threatened to take a “decisive” action against protesters if they “disturb people’s peace and security”.

    Iran, one of the founder members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is estimated to hold crude oil reserves of 155.6 billion barrels.

    Last week, Rouhani announced the discovery of a new oilfield, which contains an estimated 53 billion barrels crude oil.

    Shock

    Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Ali Hamidi, Tehran-based political commentator, said the government failed to read the pulse of people before announcing the price hike.

    “Such decisions need to be calculated and timed well, especially when the inflation is high and economy is in recession,” Hamidi said.

    “But in this case, the government failed to communicate the decision to the people properly, forcing them into the streets.”

    The fuel price hike has not gone down well with the lower-middle class people, daily wagers and students.

    “My salary has decreased two-folds in the last one year after the Iranian currency plummeted to a new low, and now this fuel price hike has come as another shock,” said Reza Farhadi from Esfahan.

    Following the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran by the Trump administration, the Iranian currency has been hit hard, while jobs have dried up and savings have evaporated.

    The simmering protests, said Hamidi, has further complicated the matters for Rouhani ahead of the February parliamentary elections.

    Rouhani has been widely criticized for failing to overcome the problems in the wake of U.S. sanctions.

    Meanwhile, the internet shutdown continues across Iran, which has further enraged people.

    The popular internet firm Oracle has called it “the largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.”

    Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, according to ISNA news agency, had issued an order for “restriction of access” to the internet nationwide.

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