Iran’s Supreme Leader, betraying his worries about economic problems amid expanding US sanctions, has told Iranians to reduce their foreign travels.

Speaking on Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, Ayatollah Khamenei criticized those who went abroad “too frequently” and told them to “quit this bad habit” while “enemies are plotting to exert economic pressure” on Iran.

He made an exception for the religious journeys to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and Najaf in Iraq — estimated at more than four million a year — as “pilgrimage to holy places…would not add to the country’s financial burdens”.

Khamenei’s injunction followed a statement by Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif earlier this month that tourism is one of the greatest pressures on the Iranian rial, which has lost more than 40% of its value since January to reach an all-time low against the US dollar.

In his address to State officials and ambassadors of Muslim countries, Khamenei also called for more austerity through measures such as a ban on imported foreign goods. While pointing to economic difficulties, he criticized the Iranian media for doing so, saying it is “repeating enemies’ statements…meant to frustrate Iranians”.

The Supreme Leader tipped off his concern, following demonstrations across the country in January, about ongoing protests such as a truckers’ strike, farmers’ rallies, and gatherings of factory workers, teachers, and other groups over low pay and working countries.

“Enemies are adamant to take advantage of Iranians protests in order to create havoc,” Khamenei asserted.

Iran has had long-standing difficulties with productivity, unemployment — especially among youth — and mismanagement. However, these have been exacerbated by the persistence of US sanctions after the July 2015 nuclear deal, and now their promised expansion with Donald Trump’s announcement of American withdrawal.

The US is threatening to punish any foreign company with US links which is trading or investing in Iran from November. In recent weeks, a series of major European, Indian, South Korean, and Russian firms have announcing suspension of business, including with Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Khamenei’s English-language website omits his discussion of economic issues on Friday. Instead, it concentrates on his declaration that “the Zionist regime will perish in the near future”.

The Supreme Leader spurred speculation earlier this week when he spoke about a referendum among Palestinians over their future, instead of issuing his standard call for the removal of the Israeli State.

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