Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has accepted the resignation of the country's labor minister, following weeks of protests against the cost of living, Iran's government spokesperson said.
The resignation by Hojjatollah Abdolmaleki on Monday was the first for the government since hard-line Raisi took office less than a year ago. Raisi has three months to propose a new minister to the parliament for approval.
Abdolmaleki said he resigned to keep the “harmony” of the Cabinet but would continue on as an advisor to the president. He recently came under fire for his treatment of the labor market and an insufficient rise in the retirement pensions.
Though the labor ministry said pensions had increased by up to 57% this year, many protesters say most retirees have only seen a 10% increase.
Spreading protests across Iran over a cut in state subsidies on food have turned political with slogans calling for top leaders to step down, according to posts on social media, and unconfirmed reports said at least four protesters were killed.
Protests began in some cities last week sparked by the government's subsidy cut decision that caused price hikes in Iran by as much as 300% for a variety of flour-based staples.
The government also raised prices of some basic goods such as cooking oil and dairy products in Iran, where almost half of its 85 million population is under poverty line, according to official figures.
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Now protesters have expanded their demands, calling for more political freedom, an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders, according to witnesses and social media posts.
Videos posted online showed demonstrators burned images of Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and called for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the toppled Shah of Iran.
The latest unrest adds to mounting pressure on Iran's rulers, who are struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under U.S. sanctions, reimposed since 2018 when Washington ditched Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. Talks to revive the pact have stalled since March.
Meanwhile, an explosion at a chemical factory in southern Iran injured scores of people, most of them lightly, the country’s state TV reported Tuesday.
The report said a leak from an ammonium tank caused the blast on Monday evening in the southern city of Firouzabad in Fars province, located about 770 kilometers (480 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. Firemen were able to quickly extinguish the blaze, the report added.
According to the chief of the provincial health department, Vahid Hosseini, out of 133 injured who were taken to local hospitals, mostly factory workers, 114 were later released after treatment.
Iran occasionally reports incidents of fires or explosions at industrial sites affecting the country’s infrastructure that are mainly blamed on technical failures. Years of economic sanctions by the West have blocked Iran’s access to original spare parts and new equipment.