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Iran currency crisis sparks protests, riots

– Tensions over the plunging value of Iran’s currency sparked clashes between protesters and security forces in the capital Wednesday, the most significant unrest there in two years and a possible prelude to a more serious threat to political stability.

Increasingly stringent U.S. and European sanctions against Iran have driven the value of the rial down for years, but its fall has accelerated dramatically over the past week, forcing a run on hard currency and anxieties over the skyrocketing prices of food and other staples.

Protesters, apparently including many shop owners, clashed with riot police Wednesday in the area around Tehran’s foreign-exchange markets in what experts described as the most significant Iranian protests since the popular uprising in 2010.

Police deployed tear gas to disperse crowds and closed off neighboring streets. And in an apparent bid to prevent any spread of unrest, the government deployed satellite jamming to block TV networks, including the BBC, from airing in the country.

There were conflicting reports on the initial cause of the unrest, with some news reports from Tehran suggesting they were sparked after security forces attempted to close foreign exchange traders in the bazaar.

The clashes came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged that Western sanctions were exacerbating the country’s economic problems and urged Iranians not to exchange their rials for foreign currencies, saying that doing so would further the “hidden war” against the country.

The value of the rial has fallen roughly 60 percent over the past year but about 30 percent over the past week.

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