Police clash with protesters in Iran as currency continues to plunge

Ahmadinejad could face increasing domestic attacks before elections

Police threatened merchants who closed their shops in Tehran's main bazaar and launched crackdowns on sidewalk money changers on today as part of a push to halt the plunge of Iran's currency, which has shed more than a third its value in less than a week.

The measures underscore the serious concern by officials facing one of the most potentially destabilizing scenarios, which has been partly blamed on the fallout from Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program. 

Public anger has mounted over a punishing combination of a falling currency and rising prices, which have put some staples such as chicken and lamb out of reach of many low-income Iranians. 

The shrinking rial also has rekindled bitter internal political feuds between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his powerful rivals, who claim the crisis has also been fed by misguided government monetary policies. 

Iran's currency hit a record low of 35,500 rials against the US dollar Tuesday on the unofficial street trading rate, which is widely followed in Iran. It was about 24,000 to the dollar a week ago and close to 10,000 rials for $1 as recently as early 2011. 

Exchange houses were closed today and currency websites were blocked from providing updates. 

In a potentially serious showdown, merchants appeared to stage widespread closures in Tehran's bazaar, the traditional business hub in Iran's capital. The sprawling bazaar has played a critical role in charting Iran's political course — leading a revolt that wrung pro-democratic concession from the ruling monarchy more than a century ago and siding with the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 

The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported Wednesday that the bazaar was closed for security reasons. The agency later quoted police Col. Khalili Helali as saying that bazaar was not officially closed, but noting that authorities will take action against many merchants who have shuttered their shops. 

"The Tehran bazaar is not closed. Police will deal with the guilds that have closed their shops to cause (economic) disruption," Mehr quoted Helali as saying. 

Meanwhile, anti-riot police patrolled streets in central Tehran where freelance money dealers work. There were unconfirmed reports of arrests, but Iranian officials have issued no formal statements. 

The currency's nosedive has added to the burdens on Iran's economy as it struggles with tougher sanctions targeting its crucial oil exports and measures blocking it from key international banking networks. The U.S. and its allies have imposed the measures in attempts to force Iranian concessions over its nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Tehran insists the program is for peaceful purposes. 

The rial's sharp decline is attributed to a combination of Western sanctions and government policies — such as fueling inflation by increasing the money supply while also holding down bank interest rates. That prompted many people to withdraw their rials to exchange for foreign currency over the past months. 

On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad insisted Iran's economic underpinnings were sound, but blamed the rial's tumble on "psychological pressures" from the sanctions and currency speculators. 

He described the sanctions as part of a "heavy battle" that has succeeded in driving down oil exports "a bit," but he gave no precise figures. Some oil analysts estimate exports have fallen by more than 30 percent since July, when the 27-nation European Union halted purchases of Iranian crude. 

Many economists and experts have accused the government of deliberately provoking an increase in dollar rates in order to meet its own budget deficit. The government earns more than 90 percent of Iran's overall foreign exchange revenues as a result of oil sales. Higher dollar rates bring higher rial earnings for the government. 

It could also bring more political heat on Ahmadinejad, who has been left severely weakened after unsuccessfully challenging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the powers of the presidency. Ahmadinejad now could face increasing domestic attacks before elections, including possibly being called before parliament for questioning over the currency upheavals. 

Earlier this year, Ahmadinejad became the first president hauled before the 290-seat parliament for questioning over his public feud with Khamenei.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?