TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi accepted the resignation of the country’s labor minister, following weeks of protests by retirees, while the country is under heavy sanctions since 2018.
Iran’s government spokesman, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, said Tuesday that President Ebrahim Raisi has accepted the resignation of the country’s labor minister, Hojjatollah Abdolmaleki on Monday.
The resignation is 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. Mohamad Hadi Zahdivafa was named as caretaker of the labor ministry.
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.
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.
Authorities on Tuesday reopened a nearby major road that they had closed after the explosion. The factory went online in 2020.
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.
Sensitive military and nuclear sites in Iran have also been the target of attacks over the past years, which Iran has blamed on Israel.
In February, a fire broke out at a warehouse full of engine oil and flammable materials at a base belonging to Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in the western province of Kemranshah, damaging a shed but causing no casualties. A day earlier, unconfirmed reports proliferated online about several explosions heard in northern Kermanshah, a strategic location in Iran with various missile and military sites.
The reports come as Iran remains on edge about its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. Negotiations in Vienna to revive the accord have stalled for months.
The 2015 deal that granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program collapsed four years ago when former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord and re-imposed crushing sanctions.
Separately, seven people were killed when a helium balloon exploded at a birthday party in southwest Iran, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
The mishap took place in a restaurant in the city of Shahriar west of Tehran killing three children, three women and an elderly man.
Shahriar prosecutor Hamid Asgar said a preliminary investigation showed that a balloon containing helium gas exploded, eventually leading to a fire that spread across the restaurant.
He said the victims tried to escape to the kitchen but eventually asphyxiated. “The burn marks on them were very mild,” he said.
Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat contributed.