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Iran parliament slashes budget for petrol imports

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TEHRAN, Feb 22 (Reuters) Iran's parliament today slashed the budget for importing gasoline, seeking to hasten the expansion of the oil refining sector and reverse a dependence on imports of transport fuel.

The populist government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to avoid prices hikes in essential goods such as fuel and tabled 4 billion dollars for gasoline imports in its budget plan for the year to March 2007, which was presented last month.

But Mohammad Mehdi Mofatteh of the parliament's budget committee told state television that parliament was cutting that ''by limiting the gasoline import budget to 2.5 billion dollars.'' Despite being the world's fourth biggest crude exporter, Iran is heavily dependent on gasoline imports because of its lack of refining capacity and buys in more than 40 percent of the 70 million litres it burns each day.

Iran's ability to refine its own gasoline is also viewed as a vital security issue.

Economic analysts say Tehran could prove highly vulnerable to sanctions on its gasoline imports, if the United Nations takes tough action over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

Tehran denies Western charges it is seeking nuclear arms.

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