Iranians say sanctions hurt them, not government

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TEHRAN, Nov 28 (Reuters) Ali Ganjineh, an Iranian petroleum engineer working abroad, has saved enough money to buy a 300,000 dollar house in his homeland.

But UN and other sanctions prevent him from sending the funds to Tehran, so his planned home purchase has fallen victim to the Islamic state's nuclear stand-off with the West.

''I have been working so hard to save the money. Now, because of the nuclear dispute, international banks refuse to wire it to Iran,'' said the 29-year-old, who works 36 weeks a year for an oil company in Kazakhstan.

The United Nations has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran over its disputed atomic ambitions. In addition, Washington has blacklisted Iran's three main state banks and, under US pressure, European banks have also pulled out.

Western powers, which accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear bombs, hope the pressure will persuade its clerical leadership to give up the nuclear programme.

With oil nearing 100 dollar a barrel, the leadership of the world's fourth-largest crude producer is reaping windfall gains and insists the sanctions have had no impact.

However, Ganjineh and other relatively well-off Iranians believe they, not the government, are the ones paying the price.

And experts say sanctions are crimping foreign investment, fuelling inflation in an economy where cash is brought in by the bagload, and making it harder to import medicine.

BANKS CUT TIES Banks HSBC, Credit Suisse and UBS cut business ties with Iran last year followed by Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and BNP Paribas in 2007.

''Almost every month we get notes from European banks about ceasing their cooperation with Iran,'' said an employee of an Iranian bank, who asked not to be identified.

A doctor, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: ''We cannot open Letters of Credit in banks. Importing necessary material for medicines to treat patients who suffer cancer is becoming more difficult every day.'' Personal stories are common of how the financial sanctions are affecting those mostly well-off people who have foreign bank accounts or earn income from abroad.

Some say they will leave Iran if the United Nations imposes tougher sanctions; others are forced to use unofficial channels to get their cash.

Maryam Sharifa is one of many Iranians whose dollar account with a Western bank was closed in the past few months. Like many Iranians who lived abroad, she had kept her account open since returning to Iran.

''I had this account for 13 years in France. Do I look like a terrorist? Should I be punished just for being an Iranian?'' said the 39-year-old mother of two. ''I had to bring all that money with me here and buy a small apartment in Tehran.'' MORE REUTERS SW KP0903

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