Tehran fears ‘revolt over poverty’ as sanctions, pandemic take toll

Lockdowns could lead people to “come and stage protests because of chaos, famine and problems,” said Rouhani.
Sunday 12/07/2020
People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk in a metro station, in Tehran. (AP)
People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk in a metro station, in Tehran. (AP)

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) —The Tehran regime is admitting that it fears street protests as the coronavirus pandemic and US sanctions have taken their toll on an economy “that could take it no more”.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that pandemic-related lockdowns could lead to popular protests over economic problems.

In a regular Cabinet meeting on the coronavirus, Rouhani said the easiest way to fight the virus is to close off all activities. But “then people come and stage protests because of chaos, famine and problems,” he said.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari reported Saturday that 188 people had died from the respiratory disease in the past 24 hours, raising the overall toll to 12,635.

Iran’s daily COVID-19 death toll has topped 100 since around mid-June, with a record single-day tally of 221 reported on Thursday.

Lari also raised the country’s caseload to 255,117, with 2,397 new infections recorded.

Rouhani urged that ceremonies be held with a limited number of participants. Many experts blame an increase in virus-related deaths over the past week on wedding and funeral ceremonies with large crowds.

Ali Reza Zali, the head of Tehran’s virus task force, in a letter to officials banned any conferences, festivals or exhibitions and limited participants in wedding and funeral ceremonies to 10.

Rouhani’s remarks came as many experts urged a halt to business activities to stop the increase in virus related deaths that have exceeded 12,600 out of 255,117 confirmed cases.

Iranian economy has been already crippled by US sanctions intended to compel Tehran to put an end to aggressive policies in the region. Sanctions targeted vital oil sales and banking relations, among other sectors, forcing Iran to rely on non-oil exports, which have dropped as borders were closed to stem the spread of the virus.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by six percent this year.

“It is not possible to keep businesses and economic activities shut down in the long-term,” Rouhani said, emphasising that “the people will not accept this”.

Health Minister Said Namaki warned on Wednesday of a potential “revolt over poverty” and blamed US sanctions for the government’s “empty coffers”.

The reopening of the economy “was not over our ignorance (of the virus’ dangers), but it was due to us being on our knees against an economy that could take no more”, Namaki said on state television.

A sharp rise in subsidized gasoline prices led to four days of unrest in cities and towns across Iran in November, which rights group Amnesty International said led to more than 300 people being killed in clashes with police and security forces.

Tehran has yet to release any official statistics about the scale of the unrest, though in June the government acknowledged that the security forces shot and killed protesters and a lawmaker said that 230 people were killed in the anti-government protests.