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Iran's parliament launches impeachment process against oil minister

Tehran — Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh is on thin ice, facing potential impeachment over controversial gasoline price hikes just before he is to attend an OPEC meeting in Vienna.

Zanganeh on Tuesday was grilled by the Iranian parliament's energy committee over the government's surprise decision to raise gasoline prices by at least 50% last week -- a move that triggered massive protests across the country.

Parliament received an impeachment motion on Sunday against Zanganeh, with 72 lawmakers signing on as of Tuesday, according to parliamentary news service ICANA. Only 10 signatures are needed to trigger an impeachment session.

Zanganeh, who is scheduled to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum this week, will have to face the energy committee again, in a session set for December 8. If it is not satisfied with his answers, the committee could advance the impeachment motion to the entire 290-member parliament, where a simple majority vote of MPs present would oust him from office.

"There are nine topics that the impeachment revolves around," MP Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani was quoted as saying. "Lack of honesty with people regarding the announcement of gasoline price ... contracts of shared oil and gas fields are some of the topics."

Other issues drawing the impeachment motion included problems with privatization of some national companies, and faulty development and construction of refineries, petrochemical plants and other oil facilities, students news agency ISNA reported.

Ali Bakhtiar, a member of the energy committee, said the impeachment motion would be placed on the agenda next week, just as OPEC is scheduled to meet in Vienna to decide on the future of its production cut accord. Iran is exempt from the cuts, with Zanganeh having negotiated the exemption at OPEC's contentious meeting in December 2018.

The gasoline price hike was announced overnight November 15 and came as a shock to many citizens.

The price of regular grade saw a sharp rise from 10,000 rials per liter to 15,000 rials/l, with a ration of 60 liters in a month. Any purchases above that quota would cost triple the previous price to 30,000 riyals/l.

The price of "super" or lead-free gasoline was increased by almost 200%, from 12,000 rials/l to 35,000 rials/l.

The decision was made by a council headed by chiefs of the executive, legislative and judicial powers and backed by all-powerful supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

Iranians took to the streets for almost a week protesting the move. The protests quickly devolved into chaotic clashes, called by security forces an "all-out world war against the system."

Unofficial figures say more than 100 have been killed and thousands detained in the last week's protests.

-- Aresu Eqbali, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Kshitiz Goliya, newsdesk@spglobal.com