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Iranians protest over government price hikes

President Ebrahim Raisi visits a supermarket in Terhan as protests erupt across Iran against sharp rises in the cost of basic goods
— Tehran (AFP)

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in cities across Iran to protest the government's decision to raise the prices of essential goods, state media reported Friday.

Earlier this week, President Ebrahim Raisi announced a series of measures to tackle the country's economic woes, including changing a subsidy system and increasing the prices of several staples including cooking oil, chicken and eggs.

Iran's economy has suffered under stringent sanctions reimposed by the United States after it unilaterally pulled out of a deal with world powers on Iran's nuclear programme in 2018.

Official figures put inflation at around 40 percent.

Iranians reacted to the move -- which took effect on Friday -- with protests in several cities over the past two days, state news agency IRNA reported.

More than 20 people were arrested in the southwestern cities of Dezful and Yasuj, where protesters called on authorities to reverse their decisions.

Demonstrators in the southern city of Izeh attacked shops and tried to set fire to a mosque, the news agency said.

Protests broke out soon after Raisi's announcement late Monday of changes to the subsidy system introduced by his predecessor Hasan Rouhani in 2018, which covered several basic goods.

But he pledged that the prices of bread, petrol and medicines would remain unchanged.

To mitigate the impact of the price increases, Raisi said monthly payments of between $10 and $13 would be disbursed for each family member of low-income households.

- 'Horrible' -

But for some residents of Tehran, the allowance won't do much.

Azadeh, a 43 year old housewife, said the changes were "horrible".

"The new prices have limited my family's purchasing power for everything (...) prices of food items, fruits and other consumables have risen.", she told AFP in the north of the capital.

The price of cooking oil has almost quadrupled since Raisi's announcement, while the price of eggs and chicken nearly doubled.

Mohammad, a 40 year old private sector employee, said prices were rising "by the hour".

"How can people live like this?" he asked.

Following Raisi's announcement, people rushed to supermarkets to stock up on goods, videos shared on social media and footage broadcast on state television showed.

The president visited one of the main meat and poultry distribution centres in south Tehran and a supermarket in the city centre, his website said.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber stressed that rising prices were a global problem not limited to Iran.

"Prices in the world have changed... the situation in the region has created problems in the prices of products and the prices of basic goods were set accordingly," IRNA quoted him as saying.

Iran's economic woes have sparked several waves of protests in recent years, most notably in November 2019 following an unannounced hike in fuel prices.

Iranian authorities said 230 people were killed in protest-related violence but experts working for the United Nations put the death toll at 400.