06/27/2007, 00.00
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Gas rationed, Iranians’ anger explodes

Petrol stations are set on fire in Tehran as people chant anti-Ahmadinejad slogans. Protests reach provincial cities. Rationing comes into effect today with only a three-hour warning. In addition to reducing the public debt and preparing the country for possible international sanctions, decision might be part of a wider strategic plan to use the energy crisis to justify Iran’s nuclear programme.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – People have set fire to petrol stations and clashed with police in Tehran and in other cities in protest over the government’s plan to ration petrol fuel. Over night gangs of youth torched petrol stations and set tires and wood on fire in the capital shouting slogans against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In some areas of the city riot police is reported to have clashed with rioters. Similar stories are filtering in from at least nine of Iran’s province, this according to Raja News. Three deaths have also been reported by dissident TV stations.

Iran is OPEC’s second largest crude oil producer but it lacks the refining capacity to satisfy its domestic market. Some 30 out of 70 million litres of petrol daily consumption have to be imported.

Rationing was introduced today with only a three-hour warning for the population and could last four to six months.

The plan would give private cars, which cannot also burn compressed natural gas, 100 litres of petrol per month. Official taxis which only consume petrol would get 800 litres per month, while other drivers who have part-time taxis will get 600 litres per month. Government cars will get 300 litres per month.

The authorities have not yet said whether drivers would be allowed to buy extra fuel at market prices.

In Iran petrol is viewed as a right. The ayatollah Khomeini saw oil as God’s gift to the Iranian people.

At 11 US cents, a litre of petrol is cheaper than drinking water. Not only is it tax-free but it is actually heavily subsidised by the government, a situation that generates all sorts of cross-border trafficking and is a heavy burden on state coffers.

The current situation for many experts lies in the regime’s policies which have favoured financing Islamic extremist movements abroad and the country’s nuclear programme at home at the expense of the refining capacity of its oil industry. Foreign investment would remedy the situation but it is difficult to get because of the political situation.

For some analysts rationing is a preventative step taken in view of possible international sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

Others point out that the measure would be risky and unpopular for any government, especially in an oil-rich country like Iran. It would be suicide if it was part of a wider strategy to justify Iran’s so-called civilian nuclear programme to face its current energy crisis.

None the less, if the reigning mullahs want to show that traditional energy sources are not enough to satisfy the country’s basic needs, then broadening the country’s energy supply by adding nuclear power might seem necessary.

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