Tehran: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Tuesday for national unity to preserve “confidence” and “hope” in the face of unrest over the Islamic republic’s mounting economic woes.
Rouhani’s remarks came as vendors in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, a traditional area of support for Iran’s leadership, continued a rare strike that began Monday over the collapse of the rial on foreign exchange markets.
“The media, the scholars, the preachers, the (Shiite) seminaries, all those with a public voice, the parliament, the judicial system… we must all join hands,” Rouhani said in a long televised address during an annual conference organised by the judiciary.
“I assure you that if we can safeguard these two assets — hope and trust (of the people) — we can overcome all problems,” Rouhani said.
“Why should people worry? Today, this anxiety is created by the media of the enemies. They are doing their job… but we expect more (support) from our friends,” the president said.
Iran has faced mounting economic woes since the United States in May pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers that lifted international sanctions in exchange for a scaling back of the Islamic republic’s atomic programme.
The United States warned Tuesday that countries around the world must stop buying Iranian oil before November 4 or face a renewed round of American economic sanctions.
– Rouhani under pressure –
A moderate conservative elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017 with backing from reformers, Rouhani has been under attack in recent weeks from Iran’s ultra-conservative camp — be it editorials in the press or sermons from imams in cities across the country.
Critics accuse the government of neglecting the most vulnerable segments of the population amid price hikes, and instead focusing on reforms they deem non-essential like the admission of women into football stadiums.
In his speech, Rouhani pledged “to the whole nation of Iran” that the population’s daily needs would be guaranteed “in all circumstances”.
Iran’s currency has plunged almost 50 percent in value in the past six months, with the US dollar now buying around 85,000 rials on the black market.
The country’s unemployment rate was 11.9 percent in the final quarter of 2017, according to the World Bank, although it showed a slight decrease from the 12.3 percent registered a year earlier.
Protests hit dozens of towns and cities over the new year, leaving at least 25 people dead and highlighting frustrations over the economy.
Tehran’s Grand Bazaar remained largely closed on Tuesday, according to Fars news agency and witnesses interviewed by AFP, a day after brief scuffles broke out between police and young protesters.
MPs meanwhile held a closed-door session to discuss the fluctuations in the foreign exchange market and the protests, state news agency IRNA reported.
A week-long parliamentary break planned to start on Saturday has been scrapped, as lawmakers schedule further sessions to “resolve the economic problems” according to IRNA.
Apart from the rial’s collapse, the Iranian private sector has long been starved of investment and its banking system is crippled by bad loans.