Protests in Iran as Rouhani says US wants 'economic war'

Iran almost knocked Portugal out of the competition with an effort in the game's dying seconds

The Trump administration will enact a zero tolerance policy with regard to exports of Iranian crude oil, a senior State Department official told reporters on Tuesday, stressing that the USA plans to pressure all buyers to completely cut any imports or face sanctions.

Iran has faced mounting economic woes since the USA pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord.

LONDON - President Hassan Rouhani promised Iranians the government would be able to handle the economic pressure of new United States sanctions, a day after traders massed outside parliament to protest against a sharp fall in the value of the national currency.

Merchants joined demonstrators by shutting down their shops and marching in the capital's biggest protest since 2012, when internationally imposed sanctions began to devastate the country's economy.

It remains unclear who is leading the protests, but analysts say hardliners wanting to challenge Mr Rouhani most likely sparked similar demonstrations last December and into January.

"A large number of the agitators, who had nothing to do with the bazaar traders, have been arrested", said Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran's chief prosecutor.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Rouhani met with judges, including the head of Iran's judiciary and parliament, where he struck a hard line against America, despite being a relative moderate within Iran's theocratic government.

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The United States has told countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November and is unlikely to offer any exemptions, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on allies to cut off funding to Iran. "The US can not defeat our nation; our enemies are not able to force us to their knees".

China, which remained in the Iran deal after the USA withdrawal, was the largest importer of Iranian oil in 2017. Of those, Iran received a total of US$50 billion from crude oil exports and another US$20 billion from exports of petrochemicals, according to the oil ministry's official.

Rouhani's own power within Iran's government appears to be waning, with some openly calling for military officials to lead the country.

Washington has sought to emphasize that the protests are part of rising economic discontent in Iran hoping it will force the government to negotiate a new nuclear deal to avoid sanctions.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 13, 2017.

Video footage posted on social media showed protesters setting fire to garbage dumpsters in Tehran streets to block riot police from attacking them.

Monday's protests in Tehran and around the country - including economically hard-hit cities like Kermanshah in western Iran - included shouts of "Death to Palestine", "No to Gaza, no to Lebanon" and "Leave Syria and think of us".

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