Soaring bread prices spark protests and burning shops in Iran, reports IRNA

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An Iranian man holds piles of bread as he walks along a street in Tehran, Iran May 1, 2022. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

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May 13 (Reuters) – Soaring bread prices sparked protests in Iran in which some shops were set on fire, prompting police to arrest dozens of “provocateurs”, the official IRNA news agency said on Friday.

The protests were sparked by a cut in government subsidies for imported wheat that caused price hikes of up to 300% for a variety of basic flour products.

Iran’s official inflation rate is around 40%, and some estimate it to be over 50%. Nearly half of Iran’s 82 million people now live below the poverty line.

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The government plans to offer digital coupons in the next two months for limited quantities of bread at subsidized prices. The remainder will be offered at market rates. Other food products will be added later.

There were scattered protests in a number of cities, according to IRNA, in which crowds chanted slogans against rising prices and some shops were set on fire.

A total of 22 people were arrested.

“Despite attempts by the provocateurs to incite protesters, the rallies ended with the intervention of security forces,” IRNA said, adding that calm had been restored.

The largest protest took place in Dezful, in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, where IRNA said around 300 people had been dispersed by security forces. Fifteen people were arrested for “attempting to sow chaos” in the city.

About 200 people protested Thursday in Shahr-e Kord in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province in western Iran, IRNA said.

“The rally ended at the request of law enforcement to prevent thugs from exploiting the situation,” IRNA said.

In the first signs of discontent over rising prices, Iranian media last week reported disrupted internet services, an apparent attempt to shut down the use of social media to hold rallies and broadcast videos.

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

Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.

Wheat prices have risen significantly globally since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, adding to the cost of subsidies in Iran.

Iranian officials have also blamed the price hike on the smuggling of subsidized bread to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

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