Iranian riot police clashed on Wednesday with demonstrators and foreign exchange dealers in the capital Tehran over the collapse of the country's currency, which has lost a third of its value against the dollar in a week, witnesses said.
fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, angered by the plunge in
the value of the Iranian rial. Protesters shouted slogans against
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying his economic policies had
fueled the economic crisis.
The rial has been plunging to record
lows against the US dollar almost daily as Western economic sanctions
imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear program have slashed Iran's export
earnings from oil, undermining the central bank's ability to support the
Panicking Iranians have scrambled to buy hard
currencies, pushing down the rial. With Iran's official inflation rate
running at around 25 percent, the currency's weakness is hurting living
standards and threatens to worsen a recent spate of job losses in Iran's
Tehran's main bazaar, one of the city's major
shopping areas, was closed on Wednesday, witnesses said. A shopkeeper
who sells household goods there told Reuters that the instability of the
rial was preventing merchants from quoting accurate prices.
official Ahmad Karimi Esfahani told the Iranian Labor News Agency that
the bazaar had been closed because of shopkeepers' safety concerns, but
would reopen on Thursday.
UN calls on Iran to halt clampdown, release activists
The United Nations human rights office called on Tuesday for the immediate release of prominent activists and journalists it said had been arrested or intimidated as part of an apparent clampdown on critical voices ahead of next year's presidential election.
Spokesman Rupert Colville cited among others the cases of Ali Akbar Javanfekr, press adviser to Ahmadinejad and head of the state-run IRNA news agency, jailed for six months for insulting the Supreme Leader, and Reuters Bureau Chief Parisa Hafezi charged with spreading lies and propaganda.
"It's certainly a clampdown, it's a large number of people, quite prominent people just in the past two weeks. There does seem to be some political linkage possibly to the forthcoming elections," Colville told a news briefing.
Colville said he was particularly concerned about the Sept. 29 arrest of human rights lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who had been sentenced to nine years in prison for "membership of an association seeking to overthrow the government and propaganda against the system." Colville also referred to the detention last month of Faezeh Hashemi and Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter and son of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former President of Iran.
Ahmadinejad was first elected in 2005 and is due to step down next year when new polls are held. His reelection in 2009 resulted in demonstrations and accusations of electoral fraud that rocked the country.