Multiple protests in Iran over economic woes

Protesters in Iran take to the streets in the cities of Karaj, Sari, Shiraz, Ahwaz and Mashhad.
Friday 03/08/2018
Iranians protest in a market in Tehran, last June. (AFP)
Iranians protest in a market in Tehran, last June. (AFP)

LONDON — Scattered protests broke out in several cities in Iran on Thursday over the dramatic drop of the country’s currency and other economic problems ahead of the imposition of renewed American sanctions, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported.

About 100 people took to the streets in the northern city of Sari, as well as unspecified numbers in the cities of Shiraz, Ahwaz and Mashhad, IRNA said.

The agency reported all protests had taken place without official permission and were subsequently broken up by police. Authorities said by early evening, all protesters had dispersed.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 200 people demonstrated in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, IRNA reported. Police said the demonstrators had attempted to damage public buildings but were unable to, IRNA said without providing further details.

In videos circulated on social media and purporting to have been taken in the town of Gohardasht, a suburb of Karaj, dozens of demonstrators can be seen in the streets, setting fire to police vehicles and shouting “death to the dictator.” Police respond with tear gas.

The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.

The Iranian rial has dropped to a new record low amid growing concerns of renewed American sanctions, due to kick in on Monday.

Earlier, Iranian protesters had clashed with police outside parliament as the plunging rial triggered three days of protests last month in Tehran.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over high prices and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of people calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down. 

Iran’s top security body has approved the release of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest for seven years for leading mass protests in 2009, a family member told local media.

“I have heard that the decision to lift the house arrest was approved by the Supreme National Security Council,” said Hossein Karroubi, son of the jailed reformist, according to the Kalameh news website which is close to the family.

“This decision will be presented to the (supreme) leader so that this case can be concluded,” he said, adding that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would have 10 days to veto the decision.

There was no official confirmation of the decision, but the reports come at a time when Iran’s leaders are keen to unite conservative and reformist factions to face down increasing pressure from the United States and a worsening economic crisis.

Mousavi, 76, and Karroubi, 80, were reformist candidates in the controversial election of 2009, which was won by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

They claimed the vote was rigged, triggering months of mass protests, particularly in Tehran. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the biggest challenge to the system since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The pair were placed under house arrest without trial in February 2011, along with Mousavi’s high-profile wife, 66-year-old Zahra Rahnavard.

Hossein Karroubi said the security council had also agreed to lift restrictions on reformist figurehead Mohammad Khatami, who was Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005.

The media had been banned from showing Khatami’s face and strict limits were placed on his movements.

President Hassan Rouhani repeatedly vowed to seek the release of Mousavi and Karroubi — a major plank of his election in 2013 and re-election last year, with their names frequently chanted at his rallies.

But despite Rouhani chairing the Supreme National Security Council, which is made up of government and military figures appointed by the president and supreme leader, there had been no sign of progress on their release.

Iran plans to offer price and tax incentives to private investors to take over idle state projects and help boost the economy, state media reported on Saturday, as the country faces likely US sanctions and the exit of many foreign companies.

The plan will offer attractive prices and flexible terms as well as tax holidays for investors who agree to take over some of the 76,000 government projects which are unfinished or idle, Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri said on state television.

“Over the past few months, the country’s liquidity has gone into housing, foreign exchange and gold coins, raising prices and provoking public concerns,” Jahangiri was quoted as saying by the website of the state broadcaster.

“A main issue in the meeting … was to find solutions to push liquidity towards employment and activating manufacturing,” Jahangiri added after the meeting attended by President Hassan Rouhani, and the heads of parliament and the judiciary.

The sanctions start to come into effect in August but some European companies investing in Iran and with big US operations have already announced they will pull out of business deals with Tehran.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)