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As sanctions crush rial's value, Iranians point fingers at Ahmadinejad

Western leaders may finally be seeing the result of stringent sanctions as Iranians blame their government, not the US and EU, for the precipitous economic decline of the oil-rich country.

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Ayatollah Khamenei brushed off the protest. "For an hour or two a number of people set two or three garbage cans on fire in a couple of streets in Tehran, and they [the Westerners] started to celebrate and said there are protests in Iran," Khamenei said Oct. 10. "Our enemies should know that Iran will overcome these problems and will defeat them again."

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In Tehran, Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami sought to calm fears, telling Iranians that they had been through this before, when they had refused to "capitulate" to the United States during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

"The circumstances in the country are normal, and there is no crisis," Mr. Khatami said from the pulpit at Tehran University, according to a translation by the Tehran Bureau website.

"Today, the people, trusting in divine promises, will endure the pressure," Khatami said.

But he also put blame on Ahmadinejad.

"While some of the pressure is due to sanctions, we must not ignore other factors.... Bad policies are also to blame," he said.

Other Friday prayer leaders echoed that criticism of the government, such as the ayatollah in Mashhad, who said "only a small portion" of economic problems were because of sanctions; "the main cause is the [government's] erroneous policies," according to Mehr News Agency, as quoted by Tehran Bureau.

Feeling the hurt in the household

The hardships are felt in many Iranian households at an unprecedented level, many say.

"The trend of rising prices this time is harsher and worse than ever. It is not difficult to sense it," says Jalal Bidgoli, a shopkeeper in Kashan, a city surrounded by desert 120 miles south of Tehran. "But people in Iran have learned, and somehow are experts in how to deal with it. God is with us."

Mandana, a homemaker and cashier in a large store, works two days a week. Her husband works long hours six days a week. Still, they can't afford necessities, like meat and fruit, she says.

"Since my childhood I always used to hear that the economy is bad, prices are going up, [and] I considered it nagging," Mandana says. "But [now] it is almost impossible to afford and keep the same level of life."

Her husband's company stopped giving milk to workers, although it is considered "necessary" because of the chemicals they deal with, and it now provides fewer overtime benefits despite making employees work longer hours, Mandana says.

"We can't blame them because they are earning less than before.... It is a chain. The domino effect seems to be inevitable," she says.

Some believe the economy must be set on firmer footing, a task made more difficult by sanctions. "The very simple fact is that the economy is terribly bad. The gap between poor and rich is getting wider and wider," says Zahra Mohammadi-Far, a woman buying books in Tehran. "Prices are crazy," she says. "Something you bought last week is today doubled [in price]. Who can afford a decent life?"

Iran has been under US sanctions since 1979. New sanctions have become increasingly severe in a bid to compel Iran to stop its nuclear program. They are joined by a host of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and European Union measures.

1992: The Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act sanctions any entity that helps Iran with weapons development.

1995: A comprehensive ban on US trade and investment in Iran is passed.

1996: The Iran and Libya Sanctions Act limits third-party investment in Iran's energy sector to less than $20 million.

2000: The Iran-Syria-North Korea Non-Proliferation Act is passed.

After 9/11: President George W. Bush freezes assets of people and entities deemed to support terrorism. Several links to Iran are identified; dozens more are added in the next decade.

2006: The first UNSC sanctions ban nuclear, missile, and dual-use technologies, and freeze assets of people and entities involved.

2007: The second UNSC sanctions resolution imposes an arms embargo on Iran.

March 2008: The third UNSC sanctions resolution extends asset freezes and authorizes inspections of Iranian ships and aircraft.

June 2008: The EU freezes assets of dozens doing business with Bank Melli, accused of facilitating Iran's nuclear and missile efforts.

June 2010: The fourth UNSC sanctions resolution bans ballistic missile activities, freezes assets of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Iran's state-run shipping line, and adds a host of banking restrictions. The EU bans investing in or assisting Iran's energy sector and develops its own list of asset freezes.

June-July 2010: The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act boosts restrictions on Iran and prevents US and foreign companies from selling refined gas to Iran, or the means for Iran to expand its own refining capacity.

December 2011: A raft of new sanctions is passed by Congress, including some targeting Iran's central bank.

January 2012: The EU approves a total oil embargo on Iran, effective July 1.

February 2012: Citing "deceptive practices" of Iran's central bank, President Obama orders a freeze on all Iranian property in the US and closes loopholes used to transfer money.

March 2012: Iran is cut off from the SWIFT system, which facilitates all global electronic financial transactions.

June 2012: US sanctions against Iran's central bank go into effect.


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