Iranian authorities arrested at least 22 demonstrators who had been protesting price surges for subsidized staple foods in two southern cities, state media reported early Friday.
The arrests follow Iran’s announcement this week that the cost of cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk would rise by as much as 300% as food prices rise across the Middle East due to the ongoing turmoil. of the global supply chain and Russia’s invasion of the leading food exporter, Ukraine. .
The state-run IRNA news agency reported that 15 people were arrested overnight in the southwestern city of Dezful in Khuzestan province, as well as another seven in the city of Yasuj in southern Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad province.
The report also said 200 people had gathered in another town in Khuzestan province, Andimeshk, where a firefighter was injured after protesters threw stones at police and firefighters. The situation had calmed down in all areas by Friday, IRNA added.
Before the demonstrations, the activist group NetBlocks.org said internet outages were reported across the country as the government braced for possible unrest.
Images widely circulated on social media showed several other protests in Khuzestan, some of which turned violent with protesters burning tires in the street and police firing tear gas to disperse them. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the authenticity of the videos.
Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has prevented many farmers from working the fields, and almost half of its wheat from Russia. Smuggling of highly subsidized bread from Iran to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has skyrocketed as famine spreads across the region.
The drought is already devastating Iran’s economy, and Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program have caused additional hardship. Inflation has soared to almost 40%, its highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high. About 30% of Iranian households live below the poverty line according to the Iranian Statistics Center.
Memories of Iran’s fuel price hike in November 2019 are also fresh. Then widespread protests, the most violent since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, rocked the country.