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Clashes Break the Silence in Iran: Tens Detained as Special Forces Return to the Streets

By Arash Bahmani, Rooz Online

Just twenty four hours after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s press interview in which he said some individuals were behind the foreign currency rate hikes in Iran, Tehran’s bazaar was shut and street protests broke out resulted in 150 injuries, according to websites close to the ruling Principlists as police used tear gas to disperse the protests.

Coverage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's press conference by donya-e-eqtesad daily

Tehran’s main foreign exchange trader’s streets, Manoutchehri, Naser Khosrow, Ferdowsi, Imam Khomeini Square and those around the bazaar, on Wednesday witnessed clashes between currency dealers and special anti-riot police, as reported by various sources and witnesses, including social networks. The protestors chanted slogans such as “Leave Syria alone, take care of us,” “Death to this dishonest government,” and “The price of Dollar must fall.”

Witnesses said that most chants were against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while there were also some against the supreme leader of the Islamic regime. The main parts of the Tehran bazaar remained closed because of the protests and the clashes. Some [people reported through social network sites that they would continue their protests in the coming days. Reports also indicate that in some parts of the capital, chants of Allaho Akbar were heard from roof tops, a practice that was a nightly occurrence in the final months of protests against the Iranian monarchy in 1978/9 that eventually resulted in the downfall of the Shah’s rule.

One witness to the protests told Rooz, “The crowd in the city’s district was considerable. On Ferdowsi street, protestors were scattered while shop keepers stood in front of their closed stores watching the unfolding events. Trash cans in the streets had been set on fire. There was also a small crowd in Lalezar Street. After the police dispersed them, another one began on Sheikh Safi Street. All the streets leading to Ferdowsi Avenue were blocked making it impossible for protestors to go south of the street.” He also said that police used plastic bullets to disperse the demonstrators.

Tehran Bazaar on strike

According to Principlist websites, more than 150 protestors had been arrested and news sites close to the Iranian government called the protests “suspicious” and the protestors “hooligans and gangs.”

Various conflicting narratives have emerged over the protests. Some attributing them to the influence of Motalefe Party (Islamic Coalition Party) while others say that Ahmadinejad’s supporters organized them. Media close to the government on the other hand presented its usual version of events holding the US and Zionists responsible, while some also mentioning Hashemi Rafsanjani behind the protests.

How did the Protests Begin

Since Monday, there have been rumors that merchants of Tehran’s bazaar have decided to state protests over the current economic conditions in the country. On Tuesday it was reported that the bazaar had been shut. As a result, bazaar merchants shut their stores in protest to the skyrocketing rate of the US Dollar vs. the Rial. The foreign currency exchange traders then launched their protest. It is reported that shot owners in Tehran’s bazaar received text message on their cell phones calling on them to shut their stores in protest to the economic conditions in the country. Ahmad Karimi Isfahani, the secretary general of Tehran’s Bazaar and Trades Society confirmed the text message without providing any further explanation.

Some witnesses have said bazaar merchants initially closed their shops to protest “the rising price of foreign currencies, instability of the economy and the government’s inability to stop inflation and its mismanagement.” Karimi Isfahani on the other hand denied any gatherings but confirmed that merchants had “shut their stores as a precautionary measure today,” adding that the gatherings that did take place had nothing to do with the bazaar. “Bazaar merchants do not chant and yell, or disrupt security. Some groups today organized the disruptions in the bazaar and Ferdowsi Square and this is related to them,” he said. He also called on the police to be present in Tehran’s bazaar to confront the provocateurs.

Soon after protests began, police and security forces went to the scene and as witnesses have reported the size of the police force was very large. They did not allow anyone from moving around in the bazaar area. Some said that the special units of the police used tear gas against the protestors.

Video clips and photographs published on the Internet and social networks showed tens of thousands of protestors in Ferdowsi Avenue who chanted anti-Ahmadinejad and anti-Syria slogans which also included those against the economy. Anti riot police on the sides of Ferdowsi Avenue and Istanbul Square arrested some protestors and people.

An economy reporter told Rooz that the bazaar closure was extensive and rather unprecedented. He mentioned some stores that closed shop on Wednesday even though they had remained open throughout the year, even on the first day of the Persian New Year, which is when all shops across Iran remain closed throughout Iran to celebrate the ancient new year celebration tradition.

Iran’s Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported that “Tehran’s currency dealers did not work today in protest to the purchase and sale of foreign currencies and in this way responded to the inaction of the administrators of the economy.” According to this news agency the reason for the closure was that “the black market had been the main cause for the chaos in the currency market in the last two months and the government has failed to take any effective measures in this regard.”

Nedaye Enghelab website which is said to be close to security agencies of Iran wrote in this regard that following protests and ensuing clashes, some 150 individuals were detained by security forces. Mehr News Agency also wrote that law enforcement agencies arrested two European nationals who were “engaged in intelligence gathering under the guise of being tourists.”

Colonel Khalil Halali, the head of the police division responsible for buildings announced that if shop owners had shut their stores with the purpose of disrupting economic activity, the police would shut these stores, on confirmation from judiciary authorities. He also said, “according to his reports, a small group of people marched towards the bazaar and chanted slogans but there was no news at this time about the bazaar being shut.” But his remarks conflicted with photos and video clips that showed shops in the bazaar that were clearly shut and the secretary general of Tehran’s bazaar Ahmad Karimi Isfahani officially confirmed that the bazaar had been closed.

Jame Islami Asnaf va Bazaar (Islamic Society of Traders and the Bazaar) issued a statement that issued a warning, “To those hypocrites who through their actions have caused parts of the bazaar to be shut,” adding that they would be identified and would be held accountable for their actions by state officials. It also said that despite objections that the group over the government’s performance in the management of economy of the country “and the person of the president,” it would not allow “enemies and particularly the hypocrites to reach their goals.” Hypocrites are the name that is used in Iranian official circles for the exiled Mojahedin Khalq (People’s Mojahedin) organization.

Government’s Response

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Monday’s press interview, government agencies have been taking action over the foreign currency situation in the country. Media reports indicate that Ahmadinejad has issued a number of directives to address the issue, while no details have been provided.

At the same time, it has been announced that a new intra-agency group called the Central Commission to Study the Currency Market had been established with the involvement of the economic officials of the cabinet and a number of commanders of law enforcement forces, which includes generals Radan and Hassan Batooli, the head of the police intelligence unit.

It appears that the creation of this special group is a confirmation of the assertions made by Ahmadinejad that 22 individuals were behind the foreign currency fluctuations in the country. He had called on the security agencies to arrest these individuals as a way to bring some order to the chaotic currency market.

Officials in Iran have varied their interpretation of the causes of the crisis in the currency market with some saying it has security roots, rather than economic. Mehdi Ghazanfari, the minister of industries and trade has said that he expects security agencies to confront with the roots of the currency market issues. Another official, Mohamad Ali Poormokhtari, the head of the Majlis Article 90 committee had earlier announced the arrest of a number of people who he said were the causes of the recent skyrocketing increases in the rate of the Dollar vs. the Rial.

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