Oct. 3 (Reuters): Riot police clashed with demonstrators and arrested money changers in Tehran today in disturbances over the collapse of the Iranian currency, which has lost 40 per cent of its value against the dollar in a week, witnesses said.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, angered by the plunge in the value of the rial.
Protesters denounced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a “traitor” whose policies had fuelled the crisis.
In a clampdown on the unofficial foreign currency market, a number of traders selling dollars were arrested after authorities ordered security forces to take action against those they see as speculators.
The rial has hit record lows against the US dollar almost daily as western economic sanctions imposed over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme have cut Iran’s export earnings from oil, undermining the central bank’s ability to support the currency.
Panicking Iranians have scrambled to buy hard currency, pushing down the rial whose increasing weakness is hurting living standards and threatening jobs.
“Everyone wants to buy dollars and it’s clear there’s a bit of a bank run,” said a western diplomat based in Tehran. “Ahmadinejad’s announcement of using police against exchangers and speculators didn’t help at all. Now people are even more worried.”
The protests are seen as posing a threat to Ahmadinejad rather than the government, which is expected to put a stop to the foreign exchange black market, pump in funds to stabilise the currency and prevent the protests from spreading.
Tehran’s main bazaar, whose merchants played a major role in Iran’s revolution in 1979, was closed today. A shopkeeper who sells household goods told Reuters that currency chaos was preventing merchants from quoting accurate prices.
A computer dealer said he had halted sales because of the volatility in the currency market.
“The same product can change price within an hour,” he said by telephone.
The protests centred around the bazaar and spread, according to the Opposition website Kaleme, to Imam Khomeini Square and Ferdowsi Avenue — scene of bloody protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009.
The semi-official Mehr news agency said the largest gatherings were around the currency-trading centres of Ferdowsi Avenue, the Istanbul intersection, and Imam Khomeini Square and that security forces had been deployed to disperse the protests.