Protests erupted across Iran after the country began rationing on the purchase of gasoline and substantially increased the price of fuel in a move aimed at assisting the needy, according to reports.

Late on Thursday, the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company (NIOPDC) said in a statement that the price of a litre of regular gasoline had gone up to 15,000 rials (12.7 US cents) from 10,000 rials and the monthly ration for each private automobile was set at 60 litres per month, the Tehran-based Press TV said in a report.

Additional purchases would cost 30,000 rials per litre.

The NIOPDC added that taxis and ambulances would have a 400-litre and 500-litre monthly quota, respectively. The price of CNG and gas oil will remain unchanged.

The demonstrations on Friday night were “severe” in Iran‘s central city of Sirjan as “people attacked a fuel storage warehouse in the city and tried to set fire to it”, state news agency IRNA reported, adding that police intervened to stop them.

After months of speculation, authorities announced in the early hours of Friday that petrol will now be rationed across the country using smart fuel cards.

Addressing the nation on Friday, President Hassan Rouhani said that the government had no intention to receive any portion of the hike despite the economic woes in the country.

Rouhani further said that the government’s move to increase the gasoline prices would be beneficial to the Iranian people, particularly those who are going through economic hardships.

The moves prompted fears of households facing further economic pressure in a country whose economy is forecast to shrink by 9.5 percent this year

Angry protesters in Ahvaz, the capital city of Khuzestan, as well as in Behbahan, Mahshahr, and Omidiyeh chanted slogans against President Hassan Rouhani and his administration.

Retaliating to Rouhani’s remark, the protesters shouted: “Gasoline price increased, making the impoverished poorer.”

Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, head of the Plan and Budget Organisation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, announced that the revenues from the initiative will be distributed among 18 million households – about 60 million people – in the form of monthly cash handouts, Aljaeera news reported.

Earlier this year, at least 11 people were killed in Iran during five days of anti-government street protests that President Hassan Rouhani blamed on interference by foreign powers.

(With inputs from IANS)