, TEHRAN, Mar 21 – Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Monday for an all-out "economic Jihad" in the year ahead to foil enemy plots, as Iranians celebrated Nowruz, the Persian new year.
"These sanctions that the enemies of the Iranian nation have planned or implemented are intended to strike a blow to the progress of our country, or impede its accelerating progress," Khamenei said in a message broadcast on state television.
His speech came as Iranian family members gathered around the Haft Seen, a traditional table with seven items starting with the letter \’S,\’ meant to welcome happiness, health and prosperity in the new year.
"However, (the enemies) could not achieve the goal they had sought to come out of these sanctions… thanks to policies of our officials and the cooperation of the nation," Khamenei said.
"For this reason, I declare this year as the year of economic Jihad," he said adding that he expected officials and the people to act accordingly.
Nowruz, meaning "new day" in Farsi, marks the transition from winter to spring and Iranians celebrate that very moment, which came at 0250 local time (2320 GMT) this year.
The holiday stops nearly all political activities until April 3, and newspapers are not published during its first week.
Nowruz also marks the renewal of nature, and Iranians use it to breathe a new life into their family relations and friendships.
The two-week holiday also provides an opportunity for travel, with authorities expecting nearly 50 million people, out of a population of 74 million, to take trips around the country.
The capital Tehran seems lifeless as tourist destinations such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, the seaside areas around the Caspian Sea and religious cities of Mashhad and Qom are filled with visitors.
During his speech, Ayatollah Khamenei also touched upon the uprisings in the Arab countries.
"This year\’s celebrations are not as refreshing since bitter events are happening against the people in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya… I hope that God will bring immediate relief to these nations and punish their enemies," he said.
Earlier in a message broadcast Sunday on the occasion of Nowruz, US President Barack Obama criticised the Tehran regime for what he called its "campaign of intimidation and abuse" against its opponents.
He also expressed solidarity with Iran\’s young people, saying "I am with you."