Iran’s president said on Wednesday the country was facing its toughest economic situation in 40 years, and the United States, not the government, was to blame.
U.S. President Donald Trump last year pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions.
Workers, including truck drivers, farmers and merchants, have since launched sporadic protests against economic hardships, which have occasionally led to confrontations with security forces.
“Today the country is facing the biggest pressure and economic sanctions in the past 40 years,” Hassan Rouhani said, according to the presidential website.
“Today our problems are primarily because of pressure from America and its followers. And the dutiful government and Islamic system should not be blamed,” he added.
Rouhani spoke at a ceremony at the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - part of a series of events leading up to the 40th anniversary of the February 11th revolution.
Iran’s rial currency has fluctuated in value in recent months, making it difficult for ordinary people to make ends meet.
Political protests are rare in Iran, where security services are pervasive. And yet tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since late December. The demonstrations are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
They began in Iran’s second city of Mashhad in the northeast and spread to Tehran and other urban centers. Iranians vented their anger over a sharp increase in prices of basic items like eggs, and a government proposal to increase fuel prices in next year’s budget.
Some protesters also vented their rage over high unemployment and savings that were lost after investments in unlicensed credit and financial institutions turned sour.
The demonstrations, initially focused on economic hardships and alleged corruption, turned into political rallies. Anger was soon directed at the clerical leadership in power since the 1979 revolution, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s cumbersome system of dual clerical and republican rule.