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Sixteen Arrested for Role in Iran's Currency Crisis

A user generated photo appears to show riot police following protesters down Saadi Street in Tehran. Via Saeed Valadbaygi on TwitPic

A user generated photo appears to show riot police following protesters down Saadi Street in Tehran. Via Saeed Valadbaygi on TwitPic

On Thursday, Tehran’s attorney general said 16 people had been arrested for their alleged “disruption of the currency market." The 16 were said to have worked with "external and internal forces" in creating a panic that benefited them personally and helped to disrupt the economy.

Shops in Tehran's Grand Bazaar were reported closed or partially closed for a second day on Thursday, one day after police clashed with protesters angered over the dramatic decline in value of the currency. Opposition website, Kaleme, reported that Bazaaris who went to work on Thursday, either closed their shops or left them half-open.

The semi-official Mehr news agency reported Wednesday that Islamic Union of the Bazaar condemned "some individuals" for their efforts to close shops in parts of the Grand Bazaar of Tehran.

The report said that those responsible for bringing parts of the bazaar to a standstill would be held accountable.

According to the report, Ahmad Karimi Esfahani, the chairman of the Islamic Union of the Bazaar, said shopkeepers did not open their businesses because they were “worried about security,” but added that he expected them to reopen on Thursday.

Pictures gathered on social media sites appeared to show that there was little business activity going on at the bazaar both Wednesday and Thursday.

Semi-official Mehr News agency reported that the Unions had a meeting on Thursday and agreed to reopen the Bazaar on Saturday, and have asked the “security forces” to be present during the reopening. Mehr also reports that the Unions have put the main blame on the “economic policies of the government” of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and also added that they are loyal to the state and the revolution.

Colonel Khalil Helali, a senior police official in Tehran said on Wednesday that the police will encounter those who “closed their shops for disruption.”

Over the past several days, the Iranian rial has lost a third of its value and has lost as much as 80 percent over the past year, adding to Iran’s economic woes. Iran’s official inflation rate is 25 percent.

On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad blamed Iran’s recent economic woes on “psychological pressures” linked to Western sanctions and criticized other politicians who have said the collapse of the currency has been worsened by his economic policies.

Ahmadinejad has been under internal pressure for his economic policies with parliament speaker Ali Larijani saying 80 percent of Iran’s economic problems are a result of government mismanagement and only 20 percent because of sanctions. Western sanctions have severely restricted Iran’s ability to sell oil on the world market and limited its access to the international banking system.

The resulting confusion about who’s to blame has left Iranians caught in the middle of the two.

Reza tweets: “Some say these high prices are because of sanctions, some think mismanagement is the problem and not sanctions. What can we do?”

On Wednesday, Tehran experienced the first street violence since 2010 as protesters took to the streets to denounce Ahmadinejad's economic policies.

Protestors were met with security forces who were reportedly stationed at key areas in Tehran again on Thursday.

The video below, posted on Vahid HT’s YouTube channel was purportedly filmed during Wednesday's street protests. Demonstrators in the video shout "No to Syria. No to Lebanon. I only die for Iran." and "Leave Syria. Do something for Iran."

Related video report by Meredith Buel:

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