Tehran, 27 June (IPS) Almost three years after Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad was swept to power as president, Iranians, mostly the poor and uneducated, the very one who had voted for him on his promises of giving them a better living conditions, finally discovered that he and his ministers are big, unscrupulous liars when they, unabatedly, would assure the population that sanctions are “but pieces of paper blackened with insignificant phrases”.
They discovered it the hardest way, when shortly before midnight Tehran time, the leader-controlled, State-owned media announced the immediate start of the introduction of petrol rationing scheme, allowing private car owners 3.5 litres of subsidised petrol per day against 10 litres for state-owned vehicles and more for public transport.
the Government had failed in all aspects of public-relation, information, explanation, physical and psychological preparation.
“The authorities, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad, his ministers, lawmakers who support the Government, all they say we pay billions for importing petrol because we use plenty of petrol, but they don’t explain why we don’t have enough refining capacity? They don’t explain to the people we don’t have enough refining capacity because we have not been able to built refineries because American sanctions alone?”, one political analyst told Iran Press Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
At a speed that caught everyone by surprise, angry car owners, -- but also profiteers and professional trouble-makers --, rushed to petrol stations, creating long queues and chaos. Quickly, people started to chant harsh slogans against the regime leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i and President Ahmadi Nezhad.
As un-guarded pump stations were set ablaze, riots spread, cars, buses, public buildings and banks were torched in Tehran and all other big cities, triggering nationwide protests.
“Not only the project is highly unpopular in a country where people are traditionally used to cheap and plentiful petrol, but the Government had failed in all aspects of public-relation, information, explanation, physical and psychological preparation”, the political analyst pointed out.
Iran is the second biggest exporter in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). But because it has low refining capability, it has to import more than 50 percent of its gasoline needs. It produces 44.5 million litres of petrol a day but consumption is 79 million.
Mr. Naser Ra’is Far, president of the Association of Petrol Station owners openly blamed the Government for the riots, accused it of “not having taken adequate and necessary measures, including providing police protection and filling pump station’s reserves, prompting some owners to close shop immediately after the announce of the rationing”.
"One day the government says rationing has been postponed, the next they say they are going ahead with it, that explains the long queues and violence," said one petrol station manager.
The government had been planning for weeks to implement rationing, which was supposed to begin on 21 May, but was repeatedly put off. In May, the government reduced subsidies for gas, causing a 25 percent jump in the price.
Even the police was caught by surprise. “It had been decided that Police would be informed at least 24 hours before of the introduction of rationing, but it did not happened. The start of rationing came also as a surprise to the Police, which learned it like other citizen, by the press, while we had our security plans, expecting such backlashes, which are natural”, said Revolutionary Guard General Esma’il Ahmadi Moqaddam, the Commander of the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF).
According to Mr. Ahmadi Moqaddam, at least 17 pump stations had been torched, plus a number of cars, bank buildings and shops.
According to reliable sources, several people have been injured and at least one possible dead in heavy clashes between frustrated demonstrators with police, anti-riot units and the basij volunteers.
However, as usual, the authorities minimized the riots, -- the first and the most serious open protest and show of anger against Ahmadi Nezhad since he took office in August 2004 – and blamed it on the “enemy, trouble-makers and agents of foreigners”.
“People must adapt themselves with the petrol rationing. They have to accept a little and short-time hardship against future prosperity and happiness”, commented Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, the Speaker of the Majles (Iran’s Parliament).
At least 17 pump stations had been torched, plus a number of cars, bank buildings and shops.
He described the all night rioting as “insignificant incidents here and there” and urged the press not to present the unprecedented event as “crisis”.
“It was expected that an important measure that is going to change a very old habit of the people become a pretext for some to make a show of themselves. But people must understand that the Government is taking this decision to save the God-given oil) reserves”, he told parliamentary journalists, urging people not only to “change their habit of using and abusing cheap petrol, but also help the Government”.
Accusing the press of “frightening” the people with bold titles, Mr. Haddad Adel said “Iranian people have enemies that spend money and some naives and ill-informed people, taking the petrol issue as a pretext, create troubles. Otherwise, people had no difficulties, even when America is planning to use oil as another tool of pressure against Iran”.
For another pro-Government lawmaker, the riots were the work of “paid terrorists and saboteurs”.
“Anywhere in our nation there is trouble and problems, American dollars can be seen”, said Mr. Morteza Tamadon, adding “the 75 million dollars approved by America last week would, without slightest doubts, be used on similar events”.
Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad, a fanatic Muslim, came to power largely on his promises to improve the collapsing economy but especially looking after the poor people.
But almost three years after, not only he has failed on all his promises, but because of a disastrous economy and arrogant foreign policy, he has made the life more difficult, sparking widespread criticism from economists and political experts.
While Government pundits put the inflation at 12.5 pr cent, the Central Bank at 13.5 per cent, the Research Centre of the Parliament, one of the most reliable and creditworthy think tanks of Iran placed it at more than 23 per cent.
To show his disdain for economists, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad says his best sources of information about economic situation are shopkeepers, including the butcher of his area.
“Better than anyone else, this honest and hardworking butcher is informed about the situation of the country, because he is in touch with everyone. He is my best source of information”, he told during a gathering of volunteers last week, after 57 university professors issued an open letter criticising the government's economic policy.
Last month, it also raised pump prices by 25 percent, to around 10 cents per litre, for a commodity that still costs less than a comparable amount of mineral water. Iran estimates that without rationing, fuel imports could reach 9.5 billion dollars a year. ENDS PETROL RATIONING 28607