(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s central bank has been selling off its gold reserves to meet local demand, which has surged as citizens seek to protect themselves against inflation or currency depreciation before elections next month.

The central bank started to meet demand for the precious metal after Turkey suspended gold imports in February, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The monetary authority has also begun to accept liras in transactions for gold sales, aiming to ease pressure on the local currency in the spot market, the person said.

The central bank declined to comment.

The central bank’s gold reserves have been tumbling over the past seven weeks, according to official data, which show a decline of 9% during that period.

Following twin earthquakes on Feb. 6, Turkey issued a regulation forcing a pause in gold purchases from abroad that fall into the category of “cash against goods.” At the time, gold imports were among the biggest drags on Turkey’s external finances. 

Turkey was the biggest buyer of gold among central banks last year, according to World Gold Council data. The nation’s gold holdings were at a record level before the quakes.

(Updates with final paragraph. A previous version of this story was corrected.)

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