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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Iran protests shut down Tehran’s Grand Bazaar

The Iranian rial has plummeted in value in recent weeks

A group of protesters chant slogans at the historic Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, on June 25, 2018. Iranian Labor News Agency via AP
A group of protesters chant slogans at the historic Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, on June 25, 2018. Iranian Labor News Agency via AP

Thousands who turned out in Tehran to protest against the country's deflating economy were met with tear gas and police lines as they clashed with security services and forced the temporary closure of the city’s Grand Bazaar.

As the crowd swelled, riot police fired tear gas on protesters and traders throughout the capital's historic bazaar were made to shut shop. A separate protest saw demonstrators attempting to encircle the Iranian parliament.

International media claimed the leaderless demonstrations were the capital’s largest protests since 2012.

Video posted to social media showed protesters chanting "Let go of Syria, think of us", a reference to the Iranian military presence in Syria in support of President Bashar Al Assad. The campaign, overseen by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is believed to cost Tehran tens of millions of dollars a month.

Others were seen chanting “Coward” at one trader who refused to close his shop, while video clips show tear gas being fired on at least one demonstration in the capital.

Monday’s protests come just days after two of Tehran’s largest shopping centres were forced to close due to economic protests.

Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency said the protests were sparked after the Iranian rial plummeted to 90,000 to the US dollar on the country's black market, in spite of government efforts to strengthen the economy.

Iran’s economic woes were compounded by the United States's decision in May to pull out of the JCPOA nuclear deal, which had promised to bring in billions of dollars of investment.

The rial exchange rate was 65,000 to the dollar just before to the US withdrawal from the deal, and 43,000 at the end of last year.

Authorities attempted to stop the currency's slide in April by combining the rial’s black market rate with the official rate, but the decline continued.

Some US sanctions will be reinstated on August 6, as a 90-day wind-down period ends, with the rest set to be reinstated on November 4.

Iranian officials attempted to play down the demonstration, with Ali Fazeli, the head of Iran's Chamber of Guilds, claiming that the protesters' demands were already being dealt with. "Their demands are delivered through the chamber to the government, and these are being pursued by us".

Iran last witnessed mass protests in December, when demonstrations across 75 cities saw more than 5,000 activists arrested and at least 25 killed by security forces.

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Read more:

Iranian rial tumbles to record lows as US sanctions loom

Re-imposition of US sanctions will dent Iran’s consumer sector

Iran’s economy to deteriorate following the re-imposition of US sanctions, BMI says

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Holly Dagres, an Iranian-American analyst, told The National that the Grand Bazaar's traders have a history of association with such protests.

“Protests in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar are not unprecedented. The bazaar merchant class are traditionally known for protests and played an integral role in the 1979 revolution. Even in the years before the JCPOA, such as 2008 and 2012, shopkeepers staged protests about the state of the economy.”

But she warned, that there was reason to believe the protests may have already been politically harnessed.

“It’s worth noting that these protests seem to be agenda-driven. According to one Iranian journalist, some merchants said the order to shut down and go on strike came from the bazaar’s Shah Mosque and its board of trustees.

“That means the merchants got the nod from a higher-up, and that would explain why IRGC-affiliated news agencies such as Fars News would publicise the protests.”