Middle East roundup; Where shopping lines get longer and longer

An elderly, well-dressed man who had been trying unsuccessfully to get a shared cab home in competition with scores of office workers and shoppers on a busy Tehran street suddenly looked upward and said in a loud voice, "Oh Allah, what sort of life is this? A curse upon his life."

Heads turned and the man got a hold of himself. He shuffled away, realizing he had made himself the center of attention without wanting to. But several onlookers sympathized with him.

After years of a relatively easy life, millions of Iranians are today screaming inwardly from the economic strains caused by the revolution and by the war with Iraq.

"I seem to be spending half of my life standing in queues," one Iranian woman told a foreigner recently.

"They are meat queues and milk queues and chicken queues and sugar queues. And if you don't get into them on time, you miss your rations."

Perhaps the only thing about the queues that makes them slightly bearable is that people have come to use them as informal clubs where much gossip is exchanged and every significant political development in the country gets analyzed threadbare.

The end of the winter has eased the government's problems of providing fuel for heating purposes, but the shortage of petroleum products persists. One garage manager commented, "We stopped servicing cars months ago. We can't get any of the things we need. There's no kerosene for washing the engines. No motor oil. No fuel oil."

Although the government has issued coupons to motorists for oil, it has asked the public not to approach service stations for oil for the time being. Meanwhile automobile owners fearful of ruining their engines readily buy black-market oil at three times the normal price.

Iran's losses since the outbreak of the war include some $13.3 billion that the country would have earned through oil revenues up to the end of March had there been no war, and another $2.6 billion in terms of tariffs on imported items.

President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said: "I have to give warning once again about the state of the economy and sho uld say that if nothing is done about it now, we shall reach a point where we will not be able to do anything at all."

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