Rowhani leaves Iran citizens out in the cold

A food distribution program gone wrong left countless waiting in line for days, eliciting criticism from Iran's hardliners

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Iranian President Hassan Rowhani drew widespread criticism after a food distribution scheme to help struggling families left them waiting in the cold for days, Iranian media reported on Wednesday.

Local news agencies published photographs of people pushing and shoving their way to the front of the lines, prompting hard-liners to criticize the handouts, calling them degrading.


Some reportedly waited in lines for upwards of three days in freezing temperatures to receive their food baskets.

Criticism intensified after local media reported than an elderly man had died while waiting for his.

Conservatives of the Islamic Republic, already highly critical of Rowhani for his recent interim nuclear deal with the West, say the aid distribution was poorly implemented and had shed an embarrassing light on the country.

"Making huge numbers of poor people wait in long lines in freezing weather ... has been used by enemy media to portray a dark image of Iran," an editorial read in the hardline Kayhan newspaper.

Unconfirmed reports on pro-opposition Iranian news sites claimed two people were killed on Sunday in a stampede while waiting for their baskets.

Local officials said the two people had died from heart failure, not the crush of the crowds.

The editorial went on to say Rowhani should apologize over the program and called for officials involved in it to resign.

"This plan could have been a gesture that the government cares about the poor ... but it has turned into a damaging measure accompanied by insult and humiliation," it added.

Even Reformist newspapers censured the government for what they said was a hasty decision to implement the scheme without proper preparation.

The distribution plan, organized to occur ahead of the Iranian New Year in mid-March, provided frozen chicken, rice, vegetable oil, cheese and eggs to families that make less than 5 million rials per month, or around 200 dollars.

Welfare Minister Ali Rabii, tasked with re-organizing the hand out effort, defended the program saying it would eventually result in the distribution of nine million food baskets.

"The policy of this government is to provide welfare for the whole society," he said in response to those he accused of "unfairly" attacking the program, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Unfortunately, these people have no perception of national interests."

Accusations amid the disorganization also questioned the quality of the food in the baskets.

Two Iranian lawmakers, Hadi Hussiani and Abdolwahid Fayyazi, moved to impeach the minister of industries after learning that rice from India was being handed out instead of higher quality, locally grown rice, reported the official state news agency IRNA.

Others pointed out the program had only focused on family units and therefore had overlooked struggling single people.

The nationwide handouts are part of an effort by Rowhani's regime to alleviate poverty and counter soaring consumer prices.

Most Iranian governments have handed out food. In 2009, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad handed out bags of free potatoes and discounted chickens.

The handouts came during a period of record oil windfalls, with Iran taking in more than $700 billion from 2005 to 2012.

Most Iranians already receive cash each month from the government, to ease the pain that ensued after the government canceled subsidies for energy, food staples and utilities in 2007.

Under Rowhani, those payments are being phased out because of a cash squeeze that officials attribute to international economic sanctions and mismanagement under Ahmadinejad.

Inflation, which stood at 42 percent when the moderate leader took office in August, has gone down to 37 percent, the government says.

[With AFP]

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