Iran.. Protests, arrests and burning of shops due to high bread prices

Rising bread prices sparked violent protests in Iran on Friday, with protesters setting shops on fire, with authorities responding by arresting dozens of them, according to the official Iranian news agency “IRNA”.

The protests erupted after the Iranian authorities’ decision to reduce government subsidies on imported wheat, which raised prices by up to 300 percent.

The increase affected a variety of staple flour-based foods.

The official inflation rate in Iran is around 40%, with some estimating it to be over 50%. Nearly half of Iran’s 82 million people are now below the poverty line.

The government plans to offer digital coupons in the next two months for limited amounts of bread at subsidized prices, provide the rest at market prices, and add other foods later.

Sporadic protests broke out in several cities, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA, with crowds shouting slogans against price gouging and setting fire to some shops.

In total, 22 people were arrested.

“Despite the instigators’ attempts to incite the protesters, the demonstrations ended with the intervention of the security forces,” the agency said, adding that calm had been restored.

The largest protest was in Dezful, in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, where the Iranian news agency IRNA said security forces had dispersed some 300 people. He added that 15 people were arrested on charges of “trying to create chaos” in the city.

The Iranian agency said about 200 people demonstrated Thursday in Shahr-e-Kord in Shahr Mahal and Bakhtiari province in western Iran.

While state television said calm had returned to Shahr Kurd, videos posted on social media indicated unrest had spread to cities including Ardabil in the northwest, Rasht in the north and Iranshahr in the southeast on Friday. Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the videos.

The opposition People’s Mujahideen Organization posted a video clip on its Twitter account showing the protests in southeastern Iran.

Al Hurra was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the videos.

In the first signs of dissatisfaction with rising prices, Iranian media last week reported the disruption of internet services, in an apparent attempt to stop the use of social media to organize rallies and post videos.

While Friday’s IRNA report was the first acknowledgment of the protests by Iranian state media, a video posted on social media this week showed protesters in Dezful and other cities chanting slogans against price increases and country leaders.

Wheat prices have risen sharply globally since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, driving up the cost of support in Iran.

Iranian officials have blamed the price increases on smuggling subsidized bread into neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

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