TEHRAN -- Police in Tehran have fired tear-gas at a crowd of protesters who marched to the Iranian parliament on June 25 after swarming the city’s historic Grand Bazaar in anger over the country’s troubled economy.
The spontaneous protest erupted at the Grand Bazaar on the morning of June 25, after the black-market exchange rate of Iran’s rial currency fell by more than 10 percent in a single day despite moves by the government support the rial.
Video footage of the unfolding demonstration obtained by RFE/RL showed hundreds of angry demonstrators marching in and around the Grand Bazaar, forcing shopkeepers to close their stalls.
Shopkeepers who refused to do so were mocked by the crowd with the chant, “Cowards! Cowards!”
The protest came a day after demonstrators forced two major mobile phone and electronics shopping centers in the Iranian capital to close.
It was not immediately clear who led the protests. The semi-official Fars news agency reported that traders gathered at the Grand Bazaar to protest “against recession,” exchange rate fluctuations, declining demand from Iranian consumers, and rising prices.
But in videos obtained by RFE/RL, the crowd at the bazaar can be heard in Farsi chanting “Leave Syria, think about us,” while some demonstrators shouted “Our enemy is here, not in the U.S.”
RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported that the protest at the bazaar began in a clothing market and soon spread to other markets – including a relatively more modern area where home appliances are sold.
Meanwhile, the Central Bank Governor Valliollah Seyf on June 25 responded to the rapidly falling value of the rial by announcing plans to launch “a second foreign exchange market” next week to battle black market currency traders.
Speaking after a meeting between President Hassan Rohani and officials from the Economy Ministry, Seyf said the parallel market would operate based on different exchange rates for the U.S. dollar.
He was quoted by Iranian media as saying a rate of 42,000 rials per dollar would be set for “importing essential commodities including medicine,” and that importers and exporters would “have to agree on the rate for importing non-essential goods.”
The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which is close to Rohani’s administration, reported on June 25 that a third exchange rate between 60,000 and 65,000 rials per dollar will be announced soon.
ISNA and the Mehr news agency also said the state of confusion and ambiguity in the markets was reinforced by other officials who have spoken about plans for other foreign exchange rates.
The Tasnim news agency quoted the head of Iran’s Chamber of Guilds, Ali Fazeli, as saying that the situation at the bazaar had calmed and that protesters’ demands were being “delivered through the chamber to the government.”
He made those remarks after the demonstrators -- chanting “Don’t fear, don’t fear, we are all together” -- marched to the Iranian parliament building.
As the crowd filed through the streets of the capital calling on others to join them, the size of the demonstration swelled into the thousands.
Similar economic demonstrations broke out across Iran at the end of 2017 and quickly spread to some 75 cities and towns -- growing into Iran’s largest protests since unrest over the disputed 2009 presidential election.
Violence at those demonstrations, which continued into early January, left 25 dead and nearly 5,000 people detained by authorities.