Iran can handle fresh sanctions

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Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul. Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani promised Iranians the government would be able to handle the economic pressure of new US sanctions amid a second day of demonstrations in protest at financial hardship and a weakening rial.

Parts of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar were on strike for the second day running, state media reported, after traders massed outside parliament on Monday to complain about a sharp fall in the value of the national currency.

Video footage posted on social media showed protesters setting fire to garbage dumpsters in Tehran streets to block riot police from attacking them. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage.

Other videos showed riot police breaking windows of closed shops, and striking parked motorcycles with batons. The police has accused protesters in recent days of causing damage to public property.

Pictures also showed shopkeepers were on strike in other cities including Arak, Shiraz, Tabriz and Kermanshah.

Defending his economic record, Rouhani said the government’s income had not been affected in recent months, and the fall in the rial was the result of “foreign media propaganda”.

Washington is to start reimposing economic penalties on Tehran in coming months after US President Donald Trump quit an agreement between major world powers and Iran in which sanctions were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The International Monetary Fund estimated in March that the government held $112 billion of foreign assets and reserves, and that Iran was running a current account surplus. These figures suggested Iran might withstand the sanctions without an external payments crisis.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over high prices and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of people calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

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