Tehran’s market traders take to streets over economic crisis

Largest national protests since 2012; the Grand Bazaar is brought to a standstill. Small business worried about the collapse of the local currency against the dollar. The police respond with tear gas, two arrests. The government is ready to intervene with concessions and access to credit.

Teheran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Thousands of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar traders launched a massive protest yesterday against the hike in prices, the collapse of the local currency and the risks of a collapse of the national economy. The demonstrators closed the shops and stopped the activities, pouring through the capital’s main streets and chanting protest slogans.

The police threw tear gas to disperse the demonstrations, who were headed towards Parliament buildings; in response, the demonstrators threw stones and chanted slogans full critical of politicians. Local sources speak of at least two arrests.

These are the most impressive anti-government demonstrations since 2012, when the sanctions on the ayatollah’s nuclear program brought the country's economy to its knees. The agreement reached in 2015 with the international community (the JCPOA) had re-launched exports, particularly in the oil sector; however, the decision of US President Donald Trump to cancel it and introduce the harshest penalties in history against Tehran has again precipitated the situation.

Among the first consequences the crisis in the local currency, with the dollar that is about to break through the roof of 90 thousand rials. Ahead of the White House announcement in early May the ratio was one to 65 thousand, while at the end of 2017 it was set at just over 42 thousand rials.

Abdollah Esfiandari, one of the top leaders of the central market in Tehran, stresses that the demands of traders "are legitimate. They demand that the situation of the foreign currency be clarified once and for all ". The protests are against "the high exchange rate, the fluctuation of foreign currencies ... the goods stuck at customs and the lack of key criteria on duties".

He is echoed by Ahmad Karimi Isfahani, general secretary of the merchant association, who reports that shopkeepers have reopened their activities but this does not mean that their demands have been met. "Small businesses - he adds - want to maintain security in the bazaar area" and the hope is to return to economic stability shortly.

Iranian Information and Communication Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said that traders returned to work after receiving ample assurances of aid from the government. Among the first measures the executive will study is subsidies for access to credit in the import sector.