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Iranian rial hits record low

TEHRAN, Jan 18: Iran's currency, the rial, hit a record low against the dollar on Wednesday, the ISNA news agency reported, based on rates in blackmarket trading that the government has tried to ban.

The rial's plunge, to 18,000 to the dollar, comes ahead of an EU foreign ministers' meeting next Monday that is expected to add further sanctions against Iran's economy.

The Tehran government has tried to shore up the value of the rial in recent weeks by imposing a lower rate in banks and currency exchange bureaux, and banning transactions outside of those outlets.

But many exchange bureaux have refused to buy or sell dollars at the imposed rate, and blackmarket dealers have managed to continue to do business despite the presence of police deployed to enforce the ban, according to witnesses in the centre of Tehran. A website, mesghal.ir, that gives real-time values for the rial against other currencies, quoted a price of 18,200 to the dollar. Access to the site has been blocked on the Internet inside Iran, although people with a VPN (virtual private network) have been able to get around the filter.

The blackmarket figure quoted by ISNA on Wednesday represented a 29 per cent difference with the imposed rate of 14,000. The rial has lost 40 per cent of its value against the dollar in the past three months, as the United States and European countries have ramped up their sanctions.

A sudden acceleration in the slide was seen in the first few days of January, after US President Barack Obama signed into law more sanctions hitting Iran's central bank and targeting foreign companies that do business with Iran.

Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini and Central Bank chief Mahmoud Bahmani on Tuesday promised the market situation will be managed in a few days.—AFP

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