Iranians make their way in the main bazaar in Tehran, Iran, Saturday,July 14, 2012 (Photo: AP)
A top cleric on Friday urged Iranians to confront the "economic war" posed by Western sanctions and for authorities to cease internal bickering, days after protests erupted in Tehran over a collapse in Iran's currency.
"The pressure today imposed on us by the world arrogance (the United States) is full-fledged economic war," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said at the weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran broadcast by state media.
"This pressure will not last. Our people have been tested and they will not be worn down. Our people will ensure they (the enemies) are the ones worn down," said the Shiite cleric, a ranking member of the Assembly of Experts that supervises the activities of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On Wednesday, police and stone-throwing protesters scuffled in central Tehran after security forces closed down money exchange bureaux and arrested 16 people accused of being "disruptors" in the market.
Shopowners in the Grand Bazaar -- a commercial maze in the heart of Tehran that has historically held political influence -- closed for security reasons and because they said the currency crash made business unviable.
It was the first sign of public unrest after Iran's currency, the rial, abruptly lost 40 percent of its value this week, resulting in sharply higher prices for imported goods and food as well as uncertainty for businesses.
Although calm returned on Thursday, a shopkeepers guild said the bazaar would not fully open until Saturday.
Blame for the sudden slide in Iran's currency, the rial, has been put on both the Western sanctions and on economic mismanagement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.
The sanctions are designed to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is used to develop nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies that and says its atomic activities are purely peaceful.
Several officials have pointed the finger at Ahmadinejad, who on Tuesday gave a media conference in which he said he was ready to resign if other Iranian authorities found his presence "intolerable."
In his prayer speech, Khatami said that while "some of the pressure we see emanates from sanctions... mismanagement should not go unnoticed."
He appealed for Iran's government, judiciary and parliament to unite, saying: "The only path to solve these problems is cooperation between officials and the people."
The internal discord "only makes the enemies happy," he said, referring to comments by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday, who predicted the unrest in Iran could spread to become "a Persian Spring" like the revolutions seen in several Arab countries since 2011.
Khatami added that "the people should know that life with dignity has costs and any people who wants to have a say in its fate has to pay these natural costs."
The United States, which has said Tehran's protests seemed spurred more by Iranian monetary policies than by sanctions, has deployed significant military hardware and troops to the Middle East, especially to the Gulf, in recent weeks.
The movements were mostly said to be for exercises, but they underscored Washington's warning that military action against Iran's nuclear facilities was an option, a threat made even more sharply by US ally Israel.
The head of the navy division of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, Admiral Ali Fadavi, was quoted by Fars news agency as reiterating a vow by the Islamic republic to defeat any attack against it.
"If the enemy acts stupidly and starts another war in the Persian Gulf, our response to the stupidity of the enemy and its allies will be so decisive that they will not have the chance to regret it," he said.
"We do not want (to see) a flood of thousands of American soldiers going home from the Persian Gulf in coffins," he was quoted as saying.