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Iran: At least one killed as protests against food price increases spread

State media say more than 20 people have been arrested while internet monitor reports hours-long service disruption
A food store in the capital Tehran, where prices of basic goods are soaring (AFP)

At least one person was killed in Iran in demonstrations against price increases, an Iranian lawmaker told local media on Saturday. 

"A resident of Andimeshk was killed during the recent rallies in Dezful in Khuzestan province," local MP Ahmed Avai said, speaking to the semi-official Iran Labour News Agency.

The victim in the southwestern province was not identified, nor were the circumstances of the death disclosed.

Unconfirmed reports from videos on Twitter posted by opposition accounts showed at least four demonstrators were killed by security forces.

Middle East Eye could not independently verify the reports. 

The protests began over a week ago in Khuzestan after President Ebrahim Raisi announced a series of measures to tackle the country's economic troubles, including cutting subsidies, which caused price increases of as much as 300 percent for a variety of flour-based staples.

The government also raised prices of some basic goods such as cooking oil and dairy products in a country where almost half of the 85 million population is under the poverty line, according to official figures. 

The demonstrations quickly picked up momentum and spread throughout the country.  

Some state-affiliated media said calm had been restored, but residents of the capital told Reuters on Sunday that security forces were maintaining a heavy presence across Tehran.

Arrests and internet blackout

Following Raisi's announcement, people rushed to supermarkets to stock up on goods, videos shared on social media and footage broadcast on state television showed.

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Iran's state news agency IRNA said on Friday that demonstrators attacked shops and set fire to a mosque, prompting the arrests of more than 20 people. 

Meanwhile, global internet monitor NetBlocks on Saturday reported a disruption lasting hours in Iran amid the protests, a potential move by the authorities to prevent protesters from communicating with each other and sharing videos on social media.

To mitigate the impact of price increases, Raisi had announced that monthly payments of between $10 and $13 would be disbursed for each family member of low-income households. 

Iran's economy has suffered severely under strict sanctions imposed by the United States after Washington unilaterally pulled out of a deal with world powers on Iran's nuclear programme in 2018.

Official figures put inflation in the country at around 40 percent. 

In 2019, Iran's economic problems also sparked mass protests after an unannounced increase in fuel prices. 

While Iranian authorities said at the time that 230 people were killed in protest-related violence, experts working for the United Nations put the death toll at 400.