June 27, 2018 / 11:43 AM / 5 months ago

After protests, Iran's Supreme leader calls for punishment of those who disrupt economic security

* Supreme leader says economic security must be protected

* Trump seeks to halt Iran oil imports

* Rouhani under fire from Iranians over economy

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT, June 27 (Reuters) - Iran’s Supreme leader called on the judiciary to punish those “who disrupt economic security” on Wednesday, following protests earlier this week over the rial’s collapse and the prospect of more hardships to come thanks to U.S. measures against Tehran.

Business at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar was back to normal on Wednesday after a two-day strike had closed most shops. On Monday traders massed outside parliament to complain about the plunge to record lows of Iran’s currency.

Reuters was unable to verify footage showing riot police clashing with protesters. Public protests are rare in Iran but in recent months there have been several over the state of the economy.

“The atmosphere for the work, life and livelihood of the people must be secure,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a meeting with judiciary officials, according to his official website.

“And the judiciary must confront those who disrupt economic security.”

Following Washington’s withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, some U.S. sanctions are due to be reimposed in August and some in November.

This has caused the rial to collapse, threatening business by driving up the cost of imports. The rial traded at 78,500 against the dollar in the unofficial market on Wednesday, according to foreign exchange website Bonbast.com. This compares to around 43,000 at the end of last year. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has also told countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.

This may cut Iran’s hard currency earnings from oil exports, and the prospect is triggering a panicked flight of Iranians’ savings from the rial into dollars.

The United States’ efforts against Iran’s oil industry will fail, an Iranian oil official said on Wednesday.

“Iran exports a total amount of 2.5 million barrel per day of crude and condensate and eliminating it easily and in a period of a few months is impossible,” the oil official told the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Trump’s attempts to cut off Iranian oil imports raises the stakes for President Hassan Rouhani, who on Wednesday moved to appease anger over his government’s handling of the economy.

A ban on imports of over 1,300 products announced by Iran on Monday in order to prepare its economy for looming U.S. sanctions presented a big opportunity for Iranian companies, Rouhani said.

“The government’s decision to ban the import of some goods to the country with the goal of protecting Iranian goods is a very big opportunity for domestic producers,” Rouhani was quoted as saying on state media.

A senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards said all Iranians were obliged to help the government cope with any financial crisis, according to Fars News.

“It is all of our duty to work together to help the respected government and other governmental branches in solving the economic problems,” General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, who is also a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, said on Wednesday.

“We must neutralize the plans of the enemy for an economic war and psychological operations.”

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh Writing by Michael Georgy Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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