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Merchants bring down shutters in Tehran bazaar after flare-up

DUBAI--Shops in Tehran's Grand Bazaar stayed shut and police patrolled the area on Thursday as authorities struggled to restore normalcy a day after security forces clashed with anti-government protesters angered by the collapse of the currency.

Traders from the bazaar, whose merchants supported Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, told Reuters by telephone that most stores were closed because their owners had stayed away for safety reasons.

On Wednesday, riot police scuffled with demonstrators and arrested money changers in the area during protests triggered by the plunge of the Iranian rial, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar over the past 10 days.

Pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mounted as business associations blamed him for much of the country's economic crisis, which has been fuelled by Western sanctions imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Associations representing production, distribution and service sectors said Ahmadinejad's administration had devastated the economy with mistaken policy decisions, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Thursday.

But in a sign that the protests still do not threaten Iran's Islamic system of government or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a statement by the associations stressed that “they continue to adhere to the system and the revolution,” Mehr said.

The associations agreed that the Grand Bazaar, one of the capital's main shopping areas, would reopen on Saturday in the presence of security forces, Mehr reported.

Ahmadinejad also came under fire from enemies in parliament. The head of parliament's committee for social affairs, Abdulreza Azizi, criticized him for insisting that currency speculators, not his own government's policies, had caused the rial's tumble.

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