Blast hits Iran refinery as Ahmadinejad visits
24 May 2011
An explosion blamed on a gas leak rocked Iran’s largest refinery on Tuesday around the time of a visit to the plant by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian media reported that up to two people were killed.
The blast occurred just before Ahmadinejad was to inaugurate and expansion project at the 400,000 barrel per day refinery in the southwestern city of Abadan, and injured 20 people, the semi-official Fars news agency said. The explosion was blamed on a “gas leakage,” but no other details were provided. Ahmadinejad himself was not injured.
Conflicting reports over the toll and timing of the blast surfaced but officials at the plant were not reachable for comment.
The semi-official Mehr news agency said two people were killed in the explosion that took place while the president was visiting. Mehr said Ahmadinejad ordered a special plane to airlift those critically injured to Tehran. Meanwhile, state television said the explosion occurred after Ahmadinejad had left the site and the station broadcast a live feed showing the president speaking to officials at a local hall in Abadan.
The plant alone accounts for about 25 percent of Iran’s fuel production, which is about 1.67 million barrel per day. Iran is the second largest exporter in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries but it has been struggling to meet local demand for fuel. Its oil sector is under pressure because of sanctions linked to Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, and Iran has been forced to increasingly rely on local expertise for developing its vast oil and gas resources as well as expanding its refining capacity. The expansion at the Abadan plant is aimed at increasing capacity by about 30 percent at the century-old plant — the largest of Iran’s nine refineries.
During his speech shown on state TV from Abadan, Ahmadinejad appeared unperturbed about the blast and assailed the country’s enemies, telling local officials that Iran is today able to meet all its domestic oil needs.
“The hopes of Iran’s enemies in imposing pressure through restrictions on the sale of oil products have turned into a complete disappointment,” he said.
Ahmadinejad recently took over the oil ministry’s portfolio, serving as its caretaker minister, after the government merged eight ministries into four as part of a plan to slim down the bureaucracy. His stewardship of the country’s most vital sector, however, has stoked criticism, with the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, ruling Monday that he cannot serve as the caretaker of the ministry. The council is close to Iran’s supreme leader who has grown increasingly critical of Ahmadinejad over the past few weeks.
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