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    "Dozens" of patients die of Tehran pollution: paper

    TEHRAN, Dec 14 (AFP) - Dozens of heart and respiratory patients have died as a result of the high levels of air pollution in the Iranian capital, Etelaat newspaper reported Monday.

    "The level of dangerous pollutants has reached six times the permitted level and even gone beyond the danger level," it said.

    Health Minister Mohammad Farhadi told newspapers on Monday that the number of patients visiting hospitals has been on the rise in the past two days, most of them suffering from heart and respiratory problems.

    He urged people to avoid "unnecessary trips," stop using their private cars and avoid gathering in crowded places. The minister also called for the elderly and children to remain at home.

    The education ministry ordered all elementary schools closed on Monday, while the traffic control office tightened travel rules for downtown Tehran.

    "I hope parents will advise their children to stay at home and do their homework," Education Minister Hussein Mozaffar said Sunday.

    The weather office says stable weather conditions have prevented thick smog from dispersing from Tehran, which is home to around 10 million people.

    Pollution has been on the rise in many Iranian cities, where vehicles are often old and not equipped with smog-control devices.

    Newspapers have pressured the authorities to come up with a solution to the worsening pollution.

    "In such critical circumstances, we are still witnessing the uncontrolled circulation of outdated buses, minibuses and vans," Etelaat daily said.

    "The only thing the authorities do is merely to issue warnings or advice, and they have not come up with a way to reduce circulation," it charged.

    "There is not the slightest cooperation between relavant organisations. The city needs immediate and firm decisions, but it seems everyone is just doing their own thing," the paper added.

    Hamshahri daily was equally frustrated: "We cannot wait for a disaster before thinking of a solution," it warned.

    The government has proposed a 300-percent increase in the country's rock bottom petrol prices next year to encourage people to reduce their use of private vehicles.

    Iranians currently pay under seven cents a litre (just under a quart) for petrol, which the government has argued has led to waste and pollution.

    Vice President and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Massumeh Ebtekar, warned Monday there will be "grave social crises" unless the country tackles the problem of pollution.

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