Posts Tagged ‘protests’

Storekeepers join truckers’ strike as Iran unrest grows

October 11, 2018

Store operators in bazaars across Iran have joined a strike by truck drivers as civil unrest grows in the face of a collapsing economy.

The protest by merchants began in the city of Shiraz and spread rapidly to more than 50 cities in 21 provinces.

Photos posted online by opposition activists showed shops with their shutters pulled down during normal working hours in Karaj, 50 km west of Tehran. Stores were also closed in Tabriz, Isfahan, Ardabil and the southern city of Qeshm.

In this June 25, 2018 photo, Iranian protesters gather at Mobile market in Tehran to protest against the worsening economic crisis. (AFP file photo)

The merchants are protesting against rising prices, the declining value of the Iranian rial and other economic grievances.

They have joined truck drivers in 300 Iranian cities who have been on strike for nearly three weeks in protest at low wages and the soaring cost of spare parts for their vehicles, especially tires.

Again, videos and photos posted online showed factories in Fars Province forced to load goods onto small pick-up trucks because of the drivers’ strike, and trucks were parked idle in loading terminals in Doroud in Lorestan province after truckers and tanker drivers refused to work, the US-based opposition website Iran News Wire reported.

Iranian authorities have arrested more than 200 striking truck drivers and accused them of being “bandits.” A court in Qazvin province has demanded the death penalty for 17 of those detained, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

At the heart of the civil unrest is a collapsing economy after US President Donald Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed economic sanctions in August. Further sanctions targeting Iran’s oil trade come into effect on Nov. 4.

“The truck drivers’ protests are an extension of other demonstrations and uprisings that have been taking place throughout the year,” the Iranian-American Harvard scholar Dr. Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News.

“Much of the Iranian population is facing dire economic conditions. This misalignment between their fortunes and those of the Iranian regime has contributed to the sentiments expressed in the latest protests. Many of the thousands of demonstrators blame the regime’s political and financial corruption, support for foreign militia groups, mismanagement of public funds, and military adventurism across the region for a significant portion of the hardships they are facing.

“It is also important to point out that the protesters decry economic mismanagement, but also express broader political frustrations with the theocratic establishment.”

Arab news

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1385801/middle-east

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Google’s AI Cloud Star Leaves After Pentagon Deal Protests

September 11, 2018

Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google’s cloud-computing division, is leaving after controversy over the use of the company’s artificial intelligence technology and a deal with the Pentagon.

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Li, a venerated researcher in the field of AI, is returning to Stanford University, where she was a professor before joining Google about two years ago. Andrew Moore, dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh will become head of AI at Google Cloud at the end of 2018, the Alphabet Inc. company said Monday. Moore worked at Google from 2006-2014.

Fei-Fei Li Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

In early June, Google retreated from a Pentagon cloud contract following employee protests. The program, called Project Maven, used Google’s AI-powered image-recognition software. In internal emails, Li praised the contract but cautioned colleagues to avoid mentioning the AI component of the deal for fear that the public would latch onto concern about “weaponized” AI. “This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google,” Li wrote in an email reported by The New York Times.

Li also led Google’s move to open an AI research lab in Beijing. This is part of a broader effort by the company to return to mainland China since pulling its search service from the country in 2010. These plans have also sparked internal debate, and criticism by some U.S. politicians.

Google hired Li in 2016, although the China-born scientist continued in her AI role at Stanford. While working at Google, she helped create applications that the company could package for businesses that buy its cloud services. Many of these offerings built on Li’s specialty in computer vision, giving machines the ability to recognize and process images at tremendous speed. As the third-place competitor, behind Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. in the cloud industry, Google’s unit leans heavily on its AI tools to lure potential clients.

At Google, Li’s mantra was “democratizing AI” — spreading the advanced tools to more software developers and academic researchers. She spearheaded the acquisition of Kaggle, a company that organizes more than 2 million data scientists.

In March, six months after the Project Maven deal was signed, Li penned an op-ed for The New York Times titled, “How to Make AI That’s Good for People.”

Li will become an adviser to the company, Diane Greene, chief executive officer of Google’s cloud unit, said in the statement.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-10/google-s-ai-cloud-star-leaves-after-pentagon-deal-protests

Russian police detain nearly 300 protesting against pension reform

September 9, 2018

Thousands of supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny protested across Russia on Sunday against planned increases to the pension age, with a rights group saying at least 291 of them had been detained by the police.

Reuters

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Protesters shout slogans as they hold a poster reading “Corruption steals pensions!” during a rally in Moscow on September 9.

The protests, which police sometimes broke up by beating participants with batons and dragging them away, were a challenge to the authorities who were hoping for a high turnout at regional elections also being held on Sunday, despite widespread anger over the pension move.

The proposed pension changes, which are currently going through parliament, have shaved around 15 percentage points off President Vladimir Putin’s popularity rating. They are the most unpopular government measure since a 2005 move to scrap Soviet-era benefits, which led to nationwide pensioner protests.

Navalny, barred from state TV and prevented from running against Putin for president earlier this year, hopes to tap into public anger over the reform.

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He had planned to lead a protest in Moscow on Sunday, but a court last month convicted him of breaking protest laws and jailed him for 30 days. Navalny said the move was designed to derail the protests which took place in more than 80 towns and cities, including Moscow and St Petersburg.

OVD-Info, a rights organization that monitors detentions, said 291 Navalny supporters had been detained by police on Sunday in 19 towns and cities, including some of Navalny’s closest aides.

In Moscow, where the authorities had rejected an application from Navalny’s supporters to protest, around 2,000 people gathered in the central Pushkin Square, the authorities and Reuters reporters estimated.

Some of them chanted “Russia will be free” and “Putin is a thief.” Riot police ordered them to disperse or face prosecution. Some of the protesters then marched through central Moscow before riot police halted them with metal barriers and sometimes rough detentions.

Despite the nature of the protest, many of those who took part were young.

“I have come here to protest against the pension reform, I have to live in this country and I want to have hope for the future and a good old age,” said 22-year-old Nikolai Borodin.

Another protester, Katya Shomnikova, 23, said: “They (the authorities) stole my future life, we will have to correct what’s been done. I want a better life for myself and my children.”

A Reuters witness saw police detain at least three protesters in Moscow.

After being amended by Putin, the reforms envisage raising the retirement age for men to 65 from 60 and to 60 from 55 for women. Average life expectancy for men is 66 and for women 77.

Opinion polls put Navalny’s support in the single digits, but backers note he won almost a third of the vote in a 2013 Moscow mayoral race, and believe he could give Putin a run for his money if ever allowed to run against him on a level playing field.

Putin makes a point of never mentioning Navalny by name but has suggested he is Washington’s pick for the Russian presidency.

Navalny has likened Putin to an autocratic tsar who has clung to power for too long. The authorities have not registered his Russia of the Future Party.

Elections to select the heads of 26 of Russia’s 85 regions were also being held on Sunday, including in Moscow.

Writing by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Kirsten Donovan

Jewish restaurant attacked during Chemnitz, Germany protests: report

September 8, 2018

A gang of neo-Nazis in Chemnitz allegedly staged a vicious attack on a local Jewish restaurant during a wave of violent right-wing protests. The chaos in the eastern city has sent shockwaves across Germany.

    
A Star of David in a synagogue

German authorities are investigating reports that neo-Nazis attacked a Jewish restaurant in Chemnitz last month as far-right protests erupted in the city, according to Die Welt am Sonntag.

The newspaper reported that a group of around a dozen masked individuals stormed the kosher eatery “Schalom” on August 27, shouting “Get out of Germany you Jewish pig.”

The assailants allegedly threw stones and bottles at the restaurant, damaging the building’s facade and shattering a window. The owner, Uwe Dziuballa, was also reportedly injured after being hit on the shoulder with a rock.

Read moreViolence in Chemnitz: A timeline of events

An Interior Minister spokesman cited by Welt said investigations were ongoing, but confirmed the incident “suggests at present a politically-motivated crime with an anti-Semitic background.”

The German commissioner for anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, called on police and prosecutors to bring the perpetrators to justice and show that “anti-Semitic offenses will be swiftly punished.”

“If the reports are true, then we are dealing with a new level of anti-Semitic crime,” he said.

“It calls to mind the worst memories of the 1930s,” he added, referring to the rise of the Nazis and their murderous campaign to wipe out millions of Jews across Europe.

Read moreSaxony premier: ‘There was no pogrom in Chemnitz’

Riots in Chemnitz

Far-right groups staged riots in Chemnitz after the fatal stabbing of a German man on August 26. Two asylum-seekers — a Syrian and an Iraqi — have been arrested over the killing. A third suspect is being sought.

There have been almost-nightly rallies in the eastern city. Sometimes the marches have turned violent, with reports of attacks on police, journalists and people perceived to be migrants. There have also been confrontations in the streets between right-wing protesters and counterdemonstrators denouncing xenophobia.

The unrest has triggered a nationwide debate about right-wing extremism and xenophobia in parts of German society. It has also exposed an apparent rift between Chancellor Angela Merkel and security officials.

Merkel said the images from Chemnitz “very clearly” showed hate and “the persecution of innocent people.”

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s VfS domestic intelligence service based in Cologne, sparked controversy on Friday when he voiced skepticism over reports that right-wing extremists had “hunted” down foreigners, suggesting that an internet video depicting such behavior could have been faked.

Read morePolice in Germany mistakenly beat victim of anti-Semitic attack

He was contradicted Saturday by Dresden senior public prosecutor Wolfgang Klein, who told the online outlet of the newspaper Die Zeit: “We have no indication that the video could be a fake.”

Klein added that his Dresden office was using the video for its investigation into events in Chemnitz.

Dresden is the regional capital of Saxony state, Chemnitz is it’s third-largest city.

Protesters storm Iranian consulate in Iraq’s Basra

September 7, 2018
Iraqi protesters watch on official building in flames as they demonstrate against the government and the lack of basic services in Basra on September 6, 2018. (AFP)
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Protesters stormed the Iranian consulate in Iraq’s southern oil hub Basra on Friday, local security sources said.

The consulate is in the upscale neighborhood of al-Barda’iya, southeast of the city center.

Demonstrators have targeted local government buildings and political party offices since protests intensified on Monday.

Reuters

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1368356/middle-east

American sanctions bring more agony to Iran’s dysfunctional economy

August 10, 2018

China is happy to play spoiler

But no one has a plan for what comes next

IT TOOK two years to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran—and a few strokes of a pen to undo it. On August 6th President Donald Trump signed an executive order restoring sanctions aimed at Iran’s car industry, its trade in gold and its access to dollars, among other things. It makes good on the president’s promise to withdraw from the deal, signed in 2015, which gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme. The sanctions will hurt. Whether they will accomplish anything else is up for debate.

Contrary to his campaign promise, Mr Trump cannot unilaterally “tear up” the deal. It has five other signatories: Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. All say it is working, an assessment backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which certifies Iran’s compliance.

In an effort to preserve the agreement, the European Union has instructed EU firms not to comply with the sanctions and allowed them to sue in court to recover damages resulting from America’s action. But few think the so-called “blocking” measure will work. Firms are taking seriously Mr Trump’s threat that anyone doing business with Iran will not be allowed to do business with America. Total, a French energy giant, is almost certainly quitting a $2bn deal to develop Iran’s massive South Pars gasfield. Airbus may halt the planned delivery of 100 passenger jets. American firms, such as Boeing, which lost a $20bn contract, are already out of the door.

For months the looming sanctions and expected capital flight have exacerbated a currency crisis in Iran. Last summer a dollar fetched about 38,000 rials on the black market (the official rate has long been out of touch with reality). Since then the rial has lost more than 60% of its value. On July 30th it bottomed out at 119,000 rials to the dollar, a record low. Prices of some staple foods have increased by up to half.

Eager for a scapegoat, the president, Hassan Rouhani, sacked the central-bank governor and his deputy who oversaw foreign exchange. Ahmed Araghchi, the deputy, who served for barely a year, is the deputy foreign minister’s nephew. His bumbling tenure was one example of the nepotism that plagues Iran, which ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption index. Mr Rouhani has tried to make a show of arresting corrupt businessmen and politicians. Dozens of bankers have been jailed for dodgy loans.

Persian empires

But Iran’s problems run much deeper than a few dirty officials. Large chunks of the economy are dominated by bloated quasi-state enterprises. Take Astan Quds Razavi, a charitable trust, or bonyad, in the northeastern city of Mashhad. It was founded in the 16th century to maintain the shrine of a revered imam. Today it has more earthly concerns: mines, an oil company, even an insurance firm. By its own estimate, it controls 41% of the land in Mashhad. The bonyads sit on vast wealth, all of it tax-exempt. A single Tehran-based trust is thought to control some $13bn in assets, twice as much as the Vatican’s bank.

Every branch of the state has its own economic empire. Beneath Tehran, workers are digging the seventh line of the city’s metro. The lead contractor, Sepasad, is under American sanctions. The US Treasury says it is run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It awarded much of the tunnelling to the Hara Company, also allegedly run by the Guards. If these firms need construction materials, they can turn to other IRGC-linked companies that make cement and steel. The state and the bonyads also control 40% of Iran’s private banks, many of them undercapitalised.

Mr Rouhani oversold the benefits of the nuclear deal, promising a flood of new investment. Even before Mr Trump took office, foreign firms were skittish about doing business in Iran. It is hard to compete with vertically integrated empires run by clerics or the IRGC. Iranians were already frustrated with the stagnant economy. Now it will get worse—especially in November, when America reimposes sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, did the same, in partnership with allies, and the volume of Iran’s oil exports fell by 58% between 2011 and 2014.

Mr Trump says he wants a better deal, one that limits Iran’s ballistic-missile programme and does not expire in a decade. It is hard to see how he will achieve that. Far from working with allies, he scorns them. He has a fanciful goal of bringing Iran’s oil exports, currently 2.5m barrels per day, down to zero. But India is looking for alternative payment methods to keep at least some of its 768,000 barrels per day from Iran flowing. Turkey says it will not comply with the sanctions. And China, which buys a quarter of Iran’s crude, is happy to play spoiler. CNPC, a Chinese state-run energy behemoth, has reportedly offered to pick up Total’s share in the South Pars field.

The president has offered to meet Iran’s leaders, perhaps hoping for a reprise of his summit with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un. Iran is cool to the idea. So the administration has fixed its hopes on the protests roiling the country. Small groups come out almost every day to complain about the economy. “We would like to see a change in the regime’s behaviour, and I think the Iranian people are looking for the same thing,” says an American official.

On this, the White House and the IRGC are in rare agreement. The commander of the Guards calls the protests “more serious than threats from abroad”. But, though they are persistent, the protests are also small and leaderless. Iran has no coherent opposition to challenge the regime.

At the beginning of the summer, residents of Khorramshahr province found themselves without water. The government arrested protesters, and then dispatched the Guards to install a 90km water pipeline. It was a telling sign. Mr Rouhani had hoped to weaken the IRGC’s grip on both politics and business. He failed. His relatively moderate government will now have to work with the arch-conservatives. This will not make Iran more amenable to Western interests, nor more responsive to its own people. Mr Trump may get a change in the regime’s behaviour—but not the one he says he wants.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “The pain of no deal”
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Iranian central bank’s top foreign exchange official arrested — Talk of Embezzlement roils banking system

August 6, 2018

The Iranian central bank’s top foreign exchange official has been arrested, the judiciary said Sunday, a day after he was sacked and as tensions rise ahead of reimposed US sanctions.

Ahmad Araghchi, who was a vice-governor at the bank in charge of forex, was arrested along with several other unnamed individuals including a government clerk and four currency brokers, said judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejeie in a statement, according to state broadcaster IRIB.

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Ahmad Araghchi

The arrests come amid heightened tensions in the run-up to the reimposition of US sanctions on Tuesday, following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Journalists reported a heavy build-up of riot police on Sunday night, including at least one armoured personnel carrier, in the town of Karaj, just west of Tehran, that has seen days of often-violent protests.

State media said protesters attacked and tried to burn down a seminary in the area on Friday night, and that at least one person was killed, allegedly by demonstrators.

There have been days of sporadic protests, including in key cities such as Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz — but severe reporting restrictions have made it impossible to verify social media footage and official accounts.

The embattled government of President Hassan Rouhani has also faced heavy criticism from conservative opponents, who have demanded action on corruption and renewed efforts to rescue the economy.

On Saturday, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani, one of the country’s top religious figures, said “economic corruptors” must face justice.

Image result for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani, photos

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani

“People are upset when they hear that someone has embezzled billions while other people are living in tough conditions,” he said in a speech, according to the conservative Tasnim news agency.

Araghchi, a nephew of deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, was fired by the new governor of the central bank on Saturday, apparently over his handling of the currency crisis.

Iran’s rial has lost more than half its value since April, in part over fears of renewed sanctions, but also thanks to an ill-judged attempt to fix the value of the rial that month and make it illegal to trade at a higher rate.

That decision triggered widespread currency speculation on the black market, and accusations that individuals with political connections were abusing the system.

Rouhani sacked the governor of the central bank, Valiollah Seif, last week and replaced him with Abdolnasser Hemati, the former head of Central Insurance of Iran.

Hemati is due to unveil a new foreign exchange policy on Monday, a day after it was approved by the government.

IRIB reported that the new policy is expected to see imports of essential items, including medicines, remain at the official government exchange rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar.

The unofficial rate for the rial fell to a record 119,000 last week, before rallying in response to the government’s efforts to address the crisis, and stood at 98,500 on Sunday night.

https://www.dailysabah.com/economy/2018/08/05/iranian-central-banks-forex-chief-arrested-in-tense-build-up-to-sanctions-return

Iran protests ‘won’t end until regime falls’

August 5, 2018

A religious school was attacked in Iran late Friday as public protests spread, in an uprising one policy expert said would continue “until the regime falls.”

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Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said Saturday that about 500 protesters attacked a seminary in the northern province of Alborz, hurling stones and leading to several arrests.

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In this video grab made from a video by Nasim News Agency, a cleric speaks to a crowd of protesters demonstrating in Mashhad, in the Khorasan Razavi province, on August 3, 2018. (AFP)

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Protests have rocked major cities across Iran — including Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad — amid mounting anger over the country’s economy and political system.

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Alireza Nader, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Iran Task Force and former policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said the Iranian government was unlikely to listen to calls made by the protesters.

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“Iran is experiencing a nationwide uprising which won’t end until the regime falls or makes fundamental reforms. History shows it won’t pursue the latter,” Nader told Arab News.

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“Iranians simply have had enough of the misery inflicted on them over the past 40 years. The regime could resort to major violence, but that’s likely to create an even bigger rebellion.”

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Videos shared on social media in recent days have shown crowds of protesters in several cities, chanting slogans such as “death to the dictator” and those demanding an end to Iran’s regional interventions in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

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In the city of Mashhad, a cleric was seen in a video telling a sizeable crowd that “most of your representatives don’t care about people’s problems,” according to Qom News.

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Nader said that the protests amount to the “most widespread anti-regime resistance movement” since the 1979 revolution in which Iran’s shah was overthrown.

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The current protests follow unrest in December and January, when at least 25 people were killed in demonstrations that spread to dozens of towns and cities.

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They come ahead of a new wave of US sanctions on Iran, the first phase of which will be introduced Tuesday, and involve blocks on financial transactions and imports of raw materials among other measures.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1351246/middle-east

Scattered protests in Iran as US sanctions loom

August 4, 2018

Sporadic protests were taking place in cities in Iran for a fourth day, with demonstrators attacking a Shi’ite seminary west of Tehran, according to Iranian news agencies and social media on Saturday, as Iranians brace for a return of US sanctions.

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Hundreds have rallied in cities across the country, including Tehran, Isfahan and Karaj, according to videos posted on social media, to protest against high inflation caused in part by a plunging rial over fears of the reimposition of crippling sanctions on Aug. 7.

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Iranian authorities have barely mentioned days of protests in the cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over the economy as well as wider anger at the political system. (File Photo: AFP)

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In May, the United States pulled out of a 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

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Washington decided to reimpose sanctions on Iran upon its withdrawal, accusing it of posing a security threat, and has told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face US financial measures.

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The protests have often begun with slogans against the high cost of living and alleged financial corruption but quickly turned into anti-government rallies.

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In the town of Eshtehard, 100 km (63 miles) west of Tehran, riot police intervened late on Friday to disperse about 500 people who chanted slogans against the government, with some throwing rocks and bricks at a Shi’ite Muslim seminary, the semi-official news agency Fars said on Saturday.

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In Tehran, street demonstrators chanted “Death to the dictator,” according to a social media video, which could not be independently verified.

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In Washington, the US State Department said on its Persian-language Twitter account: “While it is ultimately up to the #people_of_Iran to determine their country’s path, #America supports the voice of the Iranian people, which has been ignored for a long time.”

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On Aug. 7, Washington will reimpose sanctions on Iran’s purchase of US dollars, its trade in gold and precious metals and its dealings with metals, coal and industrial-related software.

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Sanctions will also be reapplied to US imports of Iranian carpets and foodstuffs and on certain related financial transactions.

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Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of the US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere in the world.

Reuters

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1350901/middle-east

Iran volatile on eve of US sanctions

August 3, 2018

Iranians are hunkering down for the return of US sanctions on Monday with a run on gold and hard currency as they scramble to protect their savings, and sporadic protests over the already troubled economy.

State news agencies reported “scattered protests” of a few hundred people on Thursday in the cities of Shiraz, Ahvaz, Mashhad and Karaj, which police had brought under control.

Videos posted on social media — whose authenticity could not be verified — have shown days of demonstrations in Iran’s third city Isfahan and minor protests in the capital on Thursday night.

So far, they have not been on the scale of the violent unrest that gripped dozens of towns and cities in December and January.

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Image result for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, photos

But anxiety is everywhere, especially over the collapse of the rial, which has lost nearly two-thirds of its value in six months.

“We are seeing protests and they will continue,” said Adnan Tabatabai, head of the CARPO think tank in Germany.

“The establishment knows they are legitimate but my biggest concern is they will be hijacked by groups inside and outside the country and turn violent.”

A decision to fix the exchange rate in April and arrest unlicensed currency dealers backfired spectacularly and triggered a boom in the black market.

The consequences have sometimes felt absurd. One expat described having to meet a trader under a bridge in central Tehran to change $2,000 (1,700 euros).

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The Iranian currency has lost about half of its value since April because of a weak economy. (AFP)

“He told me to wear a red scarf and came up to me whispering: ‘Show me the money’ like we were in a spy film,” she said.

Many wealthy Iranians are leaving the country, while others have been gripped by a bunker mentality, stocking up on provisions, dollars and gold in order to ride out the storm.

Customers were cheek-to-jowl in the narrow alleys of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar this week.

“People are worried that if they don’t buy things today, they won’t be available tomorrow,” said Ali, who runs a kitchen store in the bazaar, adding that wholesalers were hoarding new stock while they waited to see how the crisis unfolded.

The US walked out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May and is bringing back “maximum pressure” sanctions for most sectors on August 6, and the energy sector on November 4.

Multinational firms that rushed to cash in three years ago — such as France’s energy giant Total and carmakers Peugeot and Renault — are already packing up.

– Loopholes –

But many smaller firms are hunting loopholes and counting on protection from European governments who are determined to keep the nuclear deal alive.

“No one really knows how the sanctions will be. The Trump administration is doing that on purpose to keep everyone feeling threatened,” said a Western businessman in Tehran working in the oil and gas sector.

He said US threats are making some Europeans more furious than afraid.

“I’ve heard of four German pharmaceutical firms who are looking to come to Iran specifically to piss off the US.”

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A group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2018. (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)

The return of sanctions will make things only slightly harder for them, as major international banks were already too scared of US penalties to work with Iran even before Trump tore up the agreement.

“The nuclear deal was good for the oil sector but didn’t help the financial and banking sectors,” said Farid Dehdilani, international affairs adviser for the Iranian Privatisation Organisation.

“We did everything we could to attract foreign investment but without the banks it was limited. The US election in 2016 was always a cloud over the agreement, and in the end it produced the worst possible result.”

– Hitting oil sales –

A major blow for Iran will be the loss of oil sales, which Facts Global Energy analysis firm says could drop from 2.4 million barrels per day to as low as 700,000 by the end of the year.

Some countries like India, China and Turkey say they are too dependent on Iranian crude to obey US orders, but many refiners, particularly in Europe, are already cutting back.

Ironically, Iran’s government may regret cracking down on black market operators that facilitated oil sales during the last sanctions regime, such as billionaire Babak Zanjani who was sentenced to death for corruption in 2016.

“Because (President Hassan) Rouhani went after his opponents and targeted people using the black market… now the US Treasury knows exactly how they bypassed the system,” said Mohammad Reza Behzadian, former head of the Tehran chamber of commerce.

There have been positive signs, with a new central bank governor pledging fresh currency policies in the coming days, and an unprecedented transparency push that has seen dozens of arrests of profiteers with political connections.

But many say it is all too late, with the government never putting a convincing economic plan together when it had the chance.

“It failed to take advantage when conditions were good,” said Behzadian. “It’s much more difficult to act in a crisis.”

AFP

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