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Iranians Riot After Gas-Rationing Program Begins

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Iranians Riot After Gas-Rationing Program Begins

Middle East

Iranians Riot After Gas-Rationing Program Begins

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We go now to Tehran, where Iranians have had to lineup for hours at gas stations because of fuel rationing, and it's turned ugly. Scuffles broke out. And the Associated Press reports that angry motorists set fire to 12 gas stations. Even though it's one of the world's largest oil exporters, Iran lacks refining capacity, and has to import about 40 percent of its gasoline.

Reporter Roxana Saberi is on the line from Tehran right now. And, Roxana, tell us what you know about the chaos in Tehran.

ROXANNA SABERI: Well, there are a number of reports that several gas stations were set on fire, mostly overnight, somewhere in Tehran. And there are also reports of damage in other cities like in the north of Iran, in Tabriz. Iran's police chief has said about 17 stations were damaged, along with some cars and other buildings, including banks.

So a lot of the stations now have police on duty trying to monitor the situation to keep security there, and also to help the traffic move through, because there's been long lines of traffic forming today. A lot of people are trying to get gasoline.

BROOKS: Now, Roxana, you've been out and you've spoken to some of these motorists who are lined up. What are they saying? What are you hearing from them?

SABERI: Many of them are pretty upset. They think that their country has so much oil that gas should be subsidized, and that it should not be rationed. But others believe that gas rationing is a good move, and they think it could help reduce traffic, pollution and also the squandering of gasoline.

BROOKS: As we mentioned, Iran is one of the world's largest oil producers, so why is the government forced to ration fuel? What's going on?

SABERI: Because gasoline is so inexpensive, that is one reason. It used to cost about 34 cents a gallon, and just a month or two ago, it - the price rose to what it is now, about 42 cents a gallon. Because the government is spending so much money on gasoline imports every year, billions of dollars, it's very expensive for the government. And another problem is the domestic demand for gasoline is increasing.

So the government ends up having to import about 40 percent of the gas it consumes, and this could make it vulnerable to sanctions, although it has been thought that it's unlikely that the fuel imports that Tehran needs will be targeted. Iran doesn't have enough refineries to refine the amount of gasoline that it needs to meet its domestic demands.

BROOKS: So what does this mean for President Ahmadinejad, who came to power largely based on promises to improve the economy?

SABERI: Well, it is a step that threatens to increase the unpopularity of Ahmadinejad. He was elected two years ago on a platform of helping the poor and fixing Iran's ailing economy. And in the past year, there has been a high rate of inflation. The housing prices have gone up, food prices have gone up, and many people fear that the increase in fuel costs will further increase inflation. But there are some Iranians who do support this move. They think, also, that it's something that has to be done now.

BROOKS: Roxana, thanks very much.

SABERI: Thanks for having me.

BROOKS: That's reporter Roxana Saberi, speaking to us from Tehran.

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