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IRAN: Nightmarish blanket of brown smog continues to choke Tehran

December 4, 2010 | 12:06 pm

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Even after three days with all government offices closed, the Iranian capital continues to be cloaked in a cloud of noxious, dangerous gas that some are describing as hopeless.

On Saturday, normally the start of Tehran's busy week, officials shuttered all kindergartens and primary schools, according to media reports.

Officials have tried quick fixes. They imposed rules allowing cars to be driven only on alternating days; drivers with even- and odd-numbered license plates take turns. And about 88,000 fines of $13 each have been issued to violators. Already, only cars with special permits can drive into the center of Tehran.

But urban planners say there are too many cars in Tehran and that public transportation options are too limited; toxins in the air are reaching dangerous levels.

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The Tehran municipality has begun erecting oxygen tents in city squares for the elderly and even gasping police officers who must spend their days outdoors, according to the daily newspaper Aftab.

The newspaper said the shuttering of offices may or may not be reducing air pollution, but it's definitely hurting the economy -- to the tune of an estimated $350 million a day.

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The daily newspaper Jomhouri Eslami quoted former lawmaker and economist Hadi Haqshenas (in Persian) as saying the pollution holidays have cost the country at least $1 billion.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is getting some of the blame. For months he's held up funds for expanding the Tehran subway system, in part, analysts say, because he doesn't want to boost the political prospects of one of his rivals, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

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Hamshahri, a newspaper close to Qalibaf, published a commentary Saturday blaming Ahmadinejad's government of failing to implement plans for electronic banking and governance that would reduce the motor vehicle traffic that is the greatest cause of pollution. 

Pollution has also reached crisis levels in Esfahan, south of Tehran. Meteorologists predict that weather conditions that have recently intensified the pollution problem will remain unchanged until Tuesday.

-- Ramin Mostasghim in Tehran

Photos: Scenes from Tehran amid one of the worst stretches of air pollution in recent memory. Credit: Mohammad-Reza Abbasi / Mehr News Agency

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