TEHRAN: Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned residents of the drought-hit southwest Friday not to give ammunition to the enemy after a week of protests that has seen at least three deaths, reports AFP.
"The enemy will try to use any tool against the revolution, the nation and the people's interests, so we must be careful not to give him any pretext," Khamenei said, in comments addressed to the people of Khuzestan province published on his official website. Khuzestan is Iran's main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest but has been gripped by drought since March, triggering protests in several towns and cities over the past week.
Iranian media and officials have said at least three people have been killed, including a police officer and a protester, accusing "opportunists" and "rioters" of shooting at protesters and security forces.
But Amnesty International said Friday it had confirmed the deaths of at least eight protesters and bystanders, including a teenage boy, as the authorities resorted to live ammunition in a bid to quell the protests. President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Thursday that the people have "the right to speak, express themselves, protest and even take to the streets, within the framework of the regulations".
Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of the Supreme National Security Council, said "the security forces had been ordered to immediately release those detained during the recent incidents in Khuzestan, who had not have committed a criminal act". Khuzestan is home to a large Arab minority, and its people regularly complain of being marginalised by the authorities.
In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that also shook other areas of Iran. This year, however, has been especially difficult for the province – and the whole country by extension – due to extremely hot temperatures and droughts that have led to widespread blackouts and water shortages.
Officials acknowledge that the province has been hit hard, but they claim separatist groups are to blame for the violence and accuse foreign media of trying to take advantage of the situation to oppose the theocratic establishment. The government of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani said it has allocated new funds to alleviate the situation while the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said they are deploying water tankers to the thirsty region.