TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) -Iran’s top leaders defended a new fuel rationing plan Saturday that sparked violence earlier this week, saying it will free up funding for development projects and make the country “invincible,” state-run television reported.
The government began fuel rationing Wednesday, driving angry Iranians to smash shop windows and set fire to more than a dozen gas stations in the capital Tehran and several other cities.
With armed guards protecting gas stations, the country calmed down the next day, but Iranians have continued to criticize the new measure, prompting Saturday’s defense.
“Gasoline (rationing) is among issues that the government decided and implemented bravely,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying Saturday by state-run television.
Iran is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but it doesn’t have enough refineries, so it must import more than 50 percent of the gasoline its people use.
The rationing is part of a government attempt to reduce the billions of dollars it spends each year to import fuel that is then sold to Iranian drivers at far less than cost, to keep prices low.
“If this huge amount (spent on imported gasoline) is gradually reduced, definitely it will be spent on people’s lives, employment, investment, construction of schools and roads,” said Khamenei.
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that reduced reliance on imported gasoline would make the country less vulnerable to international pressure, at a time when Iran is at odds with the West over its nuclear program.
“Enemies have confessed to this important reality that if fuel consumption is contained and reduced, Iran will become invincible,” Ahmadinejad was quoted by the broadcast as saying.
But a hike in gas prices last month and now the rationing are feeding discontent with Ahmadinejad, who was elected in 2005 on a platform of helping the poor and bringing oil revenues to every family. His failure to do so has sparked widespread criticism.
Iranians are accustomed to gasoline at rock bottom prices. After a 25 percent hike in prices imposed May 21, gas sells at the equivalent of 38 cents a gallon.
The rationing system allows private drivers only 26 gallons of fuel per month at the subsidized price. Taxis get 211 gallons a month. Anything more than that will have to be bought at a higher price, which officials say will be announced within the next two months.