Protests triggered by rising food prices spread in Iran

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NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Protests against the government spread to at least six provinces in Iran on Friday (May 13) following several days of sporadic unrest sparked by rising food prices, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media.

Security forces attacked protesters with batons and tear gas and shot bullets in the air in several cities, according to activists, videos shared online and Persian news channels.

The number of casualties and arrests was unclear. Iran's state media called the protesters "provocateurs" and accused them of burning shops, and said at least 22 people had been arrested.

The protests came after the government announced a plan on Monday to adjust prices for some basic food items by cutting their subsidies. Earlier, the government had said wheat and flour would be sold at varying prices depending on the products made with them, triggering a sharp price hike for bread and pasta, staples of Iranian cuisine.

As soon as the new plan was announced, prices for cooking oil quadrupled and prices for chicken and eggs doubled. The price of flat bread increased five-fold this month, and that of baguettes and sandwich rolls as much as ten-fold.

Iranians fearing even more price increases rushed to stock food items, forming long lines stretching for more than 1.6km at grocery stores and supermarket chains across the country, videos and photos showed.

Iran's economy is strained by tough US sanctions banning oil sales and access to the global financial market. But sanctions are not the only cause of economic woes. Decades of corruption, mismanagement and populist economic policies have contributed to 40 per cent inflation, a currency free fall and a budget deficit of nearly US$21 billion (S$29 billion), according to a report by the Parliament's research centre.

The minister of agriculture, Seyyed Javad Sadatinejad, this week blamed the price hikes on the war in Ukraine and the disruption of the global food supply that it has caused. He also accused smugglers of shipping food supplies from within Iran to neighbouring countries.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, the United Nations has...

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