Police officer killed in protest-hit southwestern Iran

By: AFP      Published: 03:51 PM, 21 Jul, 2021
Police officer killed in protest-hit southwestern Iran
Representational image.

"Rioters" shot dead a police officer in southwestern Iran, state media reported Wednesday, following nearly a week of protests against water shortages that has left at least one demonstrator dead.

The officer was killed in the port city of Mahshahr in Khuzestan province, the official IRNA news agency said.

Khuzestan is Iran's main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest, but has been hit by a persistent drought that has led to protests over water shortages in several towns and cities since last week.

"During Tuesday night riots in Taleqani (a neighbourhood of Mahshahr) officers... were shot at from a rooftop," IRNA quoted acting county governor Fereydoun Bandari as saying.

"One officer was martyred and another injured in the leg."

Bandari did not specifically link the shooting to the past week's protests over water shortages.

"The people of Khuzestan are staging nightly protests, protests that have been festering for years," the reformist newspaper Arman-e Melli said on Tuesday.

The "brave people" of Khuzestan, a province that was on the front line of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, just "want water, that is all", it said.

Another reformist paper, Etemad, said around midnight Tuesday that internet access was disrupted in the provincial capital, Ahvaz, and completely cut in the town of Shadegan, where state media reported on Saturday that a protester had been shot dead by "opportunists and rioters".

Over the past few days, Farsi-language media based abroad have broadcast videos that they said showed protests in Ahvaz, Izeh, Susangerd, Shadegan and Hamidiyeh as well as Mahshahr.

They said security forces had forcibly dispersed protesters but domestic media have played down the reports.

The videos show hundreds of people marching on the streets and chanting slogans against authorities while surrounded by anti-riot police. In some, what sounded like gunfire could be heard.

The videos shared on social media could not be independently verified.

- 'I am thirsty' -

Khuzestan governor Qasem Soleimani-Dashtaki on Tuesday denied reports of further deaths among protesters.

"We have strongly emphasised that the security forces do not violently confront the people, let alone open fire," the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.

"If some are armed and are doing something (other than peacefully demonstrating), then the law tells us a different thing. But the people are dear to us," he said.

Etemad said the hashtag "I am thirsty" in Arabic was trending on social media to draw attention to Khuzestan's plight.

Khuzestan is home to a large Sunni Arab minority, which has frequently complained of marginalisation in mainly Shiite Iran.

"There were signs of protests and unrest in the province a long time ago, but the officials, like always, waited until the last minute" to address them, Etemad said.

Another reformist newspaper, Sazandegi, called on President Hassan Rouhani and President-elect Ebrahim Raisi to personally visit Khuzestan to talk to the protesters, "promise improvement and ask them to go home".

The government had on Friday sent a delegation of deputy ministers to the province to address the water shortage.

State television on Wednesday showed a long line of water trucks, saying they had been sent to Khuzestan by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps following a similar move by the army the previous day.

In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that also shook other areas of Iran.

Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms blowing in from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Iraq have dried up Khuzestan's once fertile plains.

Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts, and their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security.

This month, rolling blackouts began in the capital Tehran and several other large cities, which officials blamed on the impact of the drought on hydroelectric power generation, as well as surging demand.