Iran General NewsStrike at bazaar spreads beyond Tehran

Strike at bazaar spreads beyond Tehran

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New York Times: A strike at the traditional bazaar in Tehran continued into a second week on Thursday, spreading beyond the original gold and garments sectors and to at least two other major cities, news Web sites reported.

The New York Times

By NAZILA FATHI

A strike at the traditional bazaar in Tehran continued into a second week on Thursday, spreading beyond the original gold and garments sectors and to at least two other major cities, news Web sites reported.

The strike, only the second at the bazaar to protest government policies since the 1979 revolution, began last week after the government proposed a 70 percent income tax increase and has continued even after the government lowered the planned increase to 15 percent. Major sections of the grand bazaar in Tehran have been closed this week with vendors sitting in their shops but keeping their doors and shutters closed.

Pro-government forces have circulated through the bazaar, sometimes trying to force vendors to open by breaking their locks, said one merchant, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

“Business has been very bad, and the merchants want to force the government to drop the tax increase completely,” he said. “The economy has been very bad, and the merchants do not think that the taxes should increase at all.”

Web sites reported that the bazaar in Isfahan was closed Thursday. In the northwestern city of Tabriz, the bazaar had been closed since Tuesday, a merchant said, and vendors said they would continue their strike to force the provincial authorities to retreat from the tax increase even if an agreement were reached in Tehran.

The traditional bazaars, a major economic institution in Iran, supported the 1979 revolution and have backed the Islamic government. Influential merchants are largely members of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party and have stood behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But as Iran’s economic fortunes have sagged in recent years, Mr. Ahmadinejad has looked increasingly to the bazaar for new revenues. The strike and the senior merchants’ reluctance to intervene to end it are widely seen as signs of the bazaar’s increasing disenchantment with the president and his administration.

“The state of the economy and bleak prospects have adversely affected the merchants and helped politicize them,” said Arang Keshavarzian, an associate professor at New York University and the author of “Bazaar and State in Iran: The Politics of the Tehran Marketplace.”

“The strike shows a growing distrust between the bazaar and the government,” he added.

“It is clear that Ahmadinejad’s policies over the last five years have threatened the merchants, and many of them are willing to express their antipathy towards him now.”

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