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December 12, 2011 6:32 pm
Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad was given a hostile reception by angry textile workers on Monday, in a rare humiliation for Iran’s populist president.
One worker threw his shoe at Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, while a group of labourers unfurled a banner saying ‘We have not been paid for 17 months’. The outburst is being seen as a reflection of mounting frustration among ordinary Iranians at rising inflation and high levels of unemployment.
The president was on a brief, low-profile visit to the northern city of Sari to commemorate the anniversary of a cabinet member’s death.
Some Iranian websites identified the man who hurled his shoe at Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as an unemployed textile work called Rashid, who was inspired by the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoe at George W Bush during a press conference in Baghdad three years ago. The worker was reportedly beaten by security forces, but it was not clear if he was detained.
A local journalist said the incident was “the talk of the town” in Sari, where many workers, particularly from the textile industry, do not receive their wages regularly.
Economists blame Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s populist policies for causing to a rise in unemployment and inflation. Unemployment stood at 11.1 per cent last summer, but was 24.7 per cent for under 24 year-olds, according to the Iran Census Centre. Inflation is currently 19.8 per cent, according to the Central Bank of Iran, although analysts believe the real rates are far higher.
Insufficient support for industries such as the textile sector, which struggles with aging and dilapidated machinery as well as a lack of finance, with interest rates as high as 35 per cent, have left many factories working at less than half their capacity in recent years.
The problems have been exacerbated by international sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme, which make imports of raw material and technology even more expensive. As a result, many small and medium-sized industries have either shut down or laid off workers.
It is feared that the government’s removal of energy subsidies worth tens of billions of dollars over a year ago and its failure to pay compensation promised to the industrial sector could soon push many industries into bankruptcy.
The shoe-throwing incident could be a sign that public patience with the increasing economic difficulties is wearing thin. The shoe-thrower had been a worker at the Ghaem-Shahr textile factory, which a decade ago was a leading employer in the Caspian province of Mazandaran.
“The Ghaem-Shahr factory is producing practically nothing, with one part of the factory turning into a football field and another part planned to become a showroom for new [Iranian] cars,” said a local journalist.
“A few hundred workers go there in the morning, smoke their cigarettes and play chess and are paid small amounts of money every four or five months and survive without any news about their wages.”
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