TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday threw his support behind a decision to increase petrol prices, a move that sparked nationwide unrest in which he said “some lost their lives”.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed “hooligans” for damaging property and said “all the centres of the world’s wickedness against us have cheered” the street protests.

A policeman was killed in the western city of Kermanhshah in a clash with armed “rioters”, the second confirmed death since protests erupted across Iran on Friday.

Several people were also wounded and dozens arrested in two days of demonstrations that saw motorists block highways and others attack and set fire to public property.

In a speech aired on state television, Mr Khamenei said “some lost their lives and some centres were damaged”.

The protests flared hours after it was announced that the price of petrol would be raised by 50 per cent for the first 60 litres and by 300pc for anything above that each month.

It is a hike many consumers can ill afford, given that Iran’s economy has been battered since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement and re-imposed crippling sanctions.

The rial has plummeted, inflation is running at more than 40pc and the International Monetary Fund expects Iran’s economy to contract by 9.5pc this year and stagnate next year.

The petrol pricing plan was agreed by the High Council of Economic Coordination made up of the president, parliament speaker and judiciary chief.

Mr Khamenei said that “I am not an expert and there are different opinions but I had said that if the heads of the three branches make a decision I will support it”.

Mr Khamenei also pointed at opponents abroad in what he called “the centres of the world’s wickedness”.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2019