Iran's Khamenei, Rouhani promise better times as New Year starts
The Islamic republic's economy is reeling under the sanctions reimposed in 2018 after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Battling the Middle East's deadliest outbreak of Covid-19, Iranians are to elect a successor to President Hassan Rouhani, who is barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term, in a June 18 election.
"Our enemies, and at their head the US, sought to bring the nation of Iran to its knees through 'maximum pressure'," supreme leader Ali Khamenei said in a televised address for Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
"We knew the nation of Iran would stand firm. But today, they are acknowledging it," he added.
Khamenei labelled the new year as one of "production, support and the elimination of obstacles", while the election also made it "important and sensitive".
Sanctions have left Iran's economy grappling with rising inflation and a sharply devalued currency, a decline aggravated by the Covid-19 crisis.
Rouhani, in a separate address, said the past year was "the worst in 60 years in terms of oil revenues", but he promised improvements, saying the economy was bouncing back.
"In the 42 years since the victory of the (Islamic) revolution, I cannot recall a year as hard and difficult as 1399 regarding economic constraints," he said.
But the new year would see "wide access to (Covid) vaccines and coronavirus being brought under control, and the end of sanctions following three years of resistance", he pledged.
But all hopes of economic recovery and an influx of foreign investment were dashed by Trump's withdrawal from the accord.
Diplomatic efforts to revive the deal since President Joe Biden took power in January appear to be stalled at present.
Iran ex-president Khatami blasted over New Year message
Iranian former president Mohammad Khatami came under fire on Saturday after expressing regret for the "suffering and sorrow" of the country's people, in rare public comments ahead of June elections.
"Instead of offering congratulations to the people, I prefer to offer my sympathy and support for the suffering and sorrow they have endured," Khatami said in a video message Thursday on the occasion of the Persian New Year.
"I... sincerely apologise to the people of Iran for the shortcomings in my work" while in office, he said.
As Iranians celebrated the new year on Saturday, the ultra-conservative Tasnim news agency slammed the ex-president over his remarks, saying: "Mr. Khatami, you are part of the problem, not the solution."
"The current dire social and political situation is largely the result of a government that came to power... with your support, and now you are an inseparable part of its track record," it added.
In his remarks, Khatami, who served as president from 1997 to 2005, expressed hopes that the elections would be "free and inclusive".
But the accord has been on life support since 2018, when the former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.
"Mr. Khatami, what good does sympathising with people's woes (now) accomplish?" Tasnim said, asking if it would "fix" problems such as the high cost of living.
In November 2019, a surprise hike in fuel prices sparked a wave of protests across Iran, before they were put down amid a near-total internet blackout.
At least 304 people died in the unrest, according to London-based Amnesty International, while some authorities have announced 230 deaths during what they claim where "riots".