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Tehran Clashes Reported As Iran Rounds Up Moneychangers

October 03, 2012


Tehran's Grand Bazaar has been closed down as the authorities cracked down on what they say are black-market currency traders in the Iranian capital.

Witnesses said the raid led to clashes between riot police and dozens of protesters on Ferdowsi Street in central Tehran who were venting their anger over the collapse of the Iranian rial.

Ferdowsi Street is filled with small shops where money traders operate, including both licensed exchange bureaus and illegal operators.

Media reports suggested the October 3 crackdown was aimed at the big illegal operators, who the government has branded the "the invisible mafia."

The BBC Persian service reports that the government has accused those traders of removing U.S. dollars out of the market in a bid to challenge government measures to ease the currency crisis.

Tehran residents on social-networking websites Facebook and Twitter said police had entered the bazaar in a bid to disperse protesters.

Pourya Sharifi, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the crackdown, said on Facebook that police were preventing demonstrators from entering Haft-e Tir Square, the site of previous antigovernment demonstrations.

Other social-media users blamed the authorities for their hardships, with one of them saying he "would not forgive [the government] for the economic crisis" in the country.

Blaming The Traders

"It was planned that today business owners in the bazaar will rally from 15 Khordad Square [in Tehran] to the parliament building. On the way, other currency and gold traders joined. I heard that on their way there were some clashes in the Topkhaneh neighborhood. There were a lot of clashes where Istanbul and Ferdowsi streets meet," a small-business owner in Tehran told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"Now, the Revolutionary Guards are clashing intensely with people in Revolution Square and Vali Asr Square. If three people stand together, the guards are dispersing them by firing bullets in the air, firing tear gas, and hitting them with batons."

The business owner added that the Tehran authorities were also keeping close tabs on the prices businesses were charging for goods.

"Another type of pressure the government has put in place because of the current situation is the [fixed] price of imported goods, whose prices are changing according to the value of the U.S. dollar," he said.

"The government has started a big maneuver in Tehran. The Governmental Discretionary Punishments Organization, which has direct control over how products are sold, has sent plainclothes operatives to visit shops," he continued.

"If someone refuses to sell something or they increase the value of a product just a little bit, they [the agents] lock the shop and fine the shopkeepers. Therefore, people prefer to close their shops in order to avoid further loss."

The conservative Asr-e Iran news website attributed the closure of the bazaar to "suspicious movements" in the currency market. But it did not provide any further details.

The website quoted Ahmad Karimi-Esfahani, the secretary-general of the Islamic Society of Traders, as saying there had been what he called "many disrupters" in the market on the morning of October 3 and police were sent to deal with them.

The Iranian currency lost more than one-third of its value since last week. Iran's government is blaming currency traders for the plunging value of the rial, calling them speculators who should be detained by security officials.

Iranian officials have blamed "psychological pressures" from Western foes for the decline and currency traders, calling them speculators who should be detained by security officials.

The U.S. State Department says the rial's decline is the result of U.S.-led international sanctions imposed over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Economists say poor management by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's regime also is contributing to the rial's rapid decline.

Some currency dealers in Tehran said the rial traded at about 40,000 to the dollar early on October 3 -- down from 37,500 one day earlier and about 24,500 early last week.

The value of the rial has fallen more than 80 percent since the start of 2012.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, RFE/RL's Radio Farda, and BBC Persian


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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