Iran leaders vow to defeat virus in holiday messages

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran's supreme leader and president promised Friday that the country would overcome one of the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreaks just as it had faced down sweeping US sanctions.

In messages marking the Persian New Year holiday Nowruz, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani both acknowledged that the past year had been difficult.

Khamenei paid tribute to the sacrifices of the country's doctors and nurses in tackling the coronavirus, which has infected 18,407 people in Iran and killed 1,284, according to an official tally.

He prayed that the coming 12 months would see "great victories" after a "turbulent" year that saw open hostilities between Tehran and its archfoe Washington.

Khamenei insisted that the economy had begun to improve, despite the reimposition of US sanctions since 2018 when President Donald Trump quit a landmark nuclear agreement between major powers and Iran.

But he acknowledged that it had not affected the lives of ordinary Iranians.

In November, fuel price increases imposed by the government triggered nationwide protests that were violently suppressed with the loss of at least 300 lives, according to Amnesty International.

In his message to Iranians, broadcast shortly after the supreme leader's, Rouhani trumpeted Iran's success in withstanding US sanctions on the country's vital oil sector.

"Faced with the most severe sanctions in history imposed by the international terrorists on the oil industry... our people have written a heroic new page by keeping the wheels of the economy turning without oil," he said.

"We have not been defeated... We have emerged victorious from this test.

"Soon we will overcome the COVID-19 outbreak too," the president pledged.