DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Protesters angry about water scarcity marched through the streets in an oil-rich, troubled province in southwestern Iran late Thursday, and police apparently fired guns to disperse the crowds, such as Online videos showed.
It was not immediately clear whether someone was injured or arrested during the protests in several cities in Khuzestan province, including the capital Ahvaz. Iranian state media had not yet reported on the riots by Friday morning.
Videos showed people setting tires on fire and blocking lanes in anger. Anti-riot police in helmets and camouflage suits rioted with protesters. Police also fired shotguns in one video, although it was not clear whether they were live ammunition or so-called “beanbag bullets”, which were supposed to be less lethal.
Those in the videos sang in Arabic and encouraged others to join them. Ethnic Arabs live in the province who complain about discrimination by the Shiite theocracy in Iran.
Arab separatists have long operated in Khuzestan, which the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein wanted to usurp in his war with Iran in the 1980s. They have blown oil pipelines in the past and have been blamed for attacks, including an attack on a military parade in 2018 that killed at least 25 people in Ahvaz.
Past water concerns have driven angry protesters into the streets in Iran. The country has been grappling with rolling power outages for weeks, in part about what the authorities are calling a drought plaguing the nation. Rainfall had fallen by almost 50% last year, so dams with dwindling water supplies supplied the country with energy
The protests in Khuzestan Province come as Iran battles the coronavirus pandemic through repeated waves of infections and since thousands of workers in the oil industry have started strikes for better wages and working conditions.
The Iranian economy is also struggling under US sanctions since then-President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with the world powers, which brought down the value of the Islamic Republic’s rial currency.