Protests and gunfire in restless, oil-rich Iranian province

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Protesters angry over water shortages marched through a troubled, oil-rich province in southwest Iran on Thursday evening and police reportedly fired weapons to disperse the crowds , showed videos online.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone had been injured or arrested during protests in several towns in Khuzestan province, including its capital, Ahvaz. Iranian state media did not report on the unrest on Friday morning.

Videos showed people setting tires on fire, blocking roads in anger. Riot police in helmets and camouflage fatigues clashed with protesters. Police also fired shotguns in one video, although it was not clear whether they were live ammunition or so-called “beanbag towers” designed to be less lethal.

Those in the videos chanted in Arabic, demanding that others join them. The province is home to ethnic Arabs who complain of discrimination from the Iranian Shia theocracy.

Arab separatists have long operated in Khuzestan, where Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to capture his 1980s war with Iran. They have blown up pipelines in the past and have been blamed for attacks, including a 2018 assault on a military parade that killed at least 25 people in Ahvaz.

Water problems in the past have sent angry protesters to the streets in Iran. The country has been facing continuous blackouts for weeks now, in part because of what authorities describe as a drought hitting the country. Rainfall had declined by nearly 50% last year, leaving dams with dwindling water supplies to supply the country

Protests in Khuzestan Province come as Iran battles repeated waves of infections in the coronavirus pandemic and as thousands of workers in its oil industry launched strikes for better wages and conditions.

Iran’s economy has also struggled under US sanctions since President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, crushing the value of the Islamic Republic’s rial.

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