Iran protests enter third day as Rohani takes aim at US

A senior State Department official said the US is pushing countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Tuesday 26/06/2018
A group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 25, 2018 (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)
A group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 25, 2018 (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)

Tehran entered its third day of unrest as demonstrators continued to give voice to their rage over the country’s faltering economy, likely to be further hit by the US’s determination to have its allies halt Iranian oil imports.

Responding to the protests, Iranian President Hassan Rohani told the nation it faces an “economic war” with the United States, which pulled out of the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May. 

On Tuesday, a senior State Department official said the US is pushing countries to halt imports of Iranian oil and that it will not grant any waivers to sanctions. 

"We're going to isolate streams of Iranian funding and looking to highlight the totality of Iran's malign behavior across the region," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

In Tehran, protesters reportedly confronted police on Tehran’s streets, though they appeared smaller in number than on Monday, when security forces fired tear gas on crowds in front of parliament.

Earlier on Monday, demonstrators forced the temporary closure of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and on Sunday, protests forced the closure of two of Tehran’s major shopping centres for mobile phones and electronics.

Iran Freedom, a popular Twitter account that campaigns for freedom and democracy within the country, wrote that the protesters asked security forces to join the protests rather than disrupt them. 

"Disciplinary forces dispatch to crackdown the protests; in return protesters chant “Disciplinary force, support us, support us,” the tweet read.

Across Iran, discontent has centred on the plunging rial, which has dropped to 90,000 to the dollar — double the government rate of 42,000 rials to the dllar — as people watch their savings dwindle.

Much of the country’s economic uncertainty follows US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran, even though other world powers have pledged to stand by the agreement.

Similar economic protests rocked Iran towards the end of last year and spread to some 75 cities and towns, becoming the largest demonstrations the country had experienced since the months-long rallies following the 2009 disputed presidential election. December and January’s demonstrations saw at least 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 arrested, but largely occurred in Iran’s provinces rather than in the capital.

In contrast, the latest protests have taken hold on commercial areas, including the sprawling, historic warrens of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, the home of conservative merchants who backed the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution and overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Witnesses described a noticeable presence of riot police across Tehran on Tuesday. Official reports and comments on Iran’s state controlled media were similarly scant, though Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told viewers that the “main provocateurs” of Monday’s protests had been arrested. He did not elaborate on the number of people detained.

On Tuesday morning, Rohani addressed a meeting of judges, including the head of the country’s judiciary and parliament. While a relative moderate within Iran’s theocratic government, Rohani struck a hard line against the US.

“We are fighting against the United States, it wants to make an economic war,” the president said. “The US cannot defeat our nation; our enemies are not able to force us to their knees.”

As the rial tumbles, Rohani’s own power within Iran’s government appears to be slipping, with some openly calling for military officials to lead the country.

Iran also has suggested it could immediately ramp up its production of uranium in response to the US pullout, potentially escalating the very situation the nuclear deal sought to avoid — having an Iran with a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that it could use to build atomic bombs.

Tehran has long denied wanting to build nuclear weapons, despite fears from the West and the United Nations.

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)