Protesters angry over water shortages marched through the streets of an oil-rich, restive province in southwestern Iran late Thursday, with police firing weapons to disperse the crowds, according to YouTube videos.
It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone had been wounded or arrested in the protests across multiple cities in Khuzestan province, including its capital, Ahvaz. Iranian state media had not reported on the unrest as of early Friday morning.
In videos, people are seen setting fire to tires and blocking roadways in a fit of anger. Demonstrators were scuffled with anti-riot police wearing helmets and camouflage fatigues.
In one video, police also fired shotguns, though it was unclear if they were using live ammunition or so-called “beanbag rounds,” which are less dangerous.
Those in the videos chanted in Arabic, demanding others to join them. The province is home to ethnic Arabs who complain of discrimination by Iran’s Shia theocracy.
Arab separatists long have operated in Khuzestan, which Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tried to seize in his 1980s war with Iran. They’ve blown up oil 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.
In the past, water shortages in Iran have led angry protesters to take to the streets. For weeks, the country has been exposed to rolling blackouts, owing in part to what authorities describe as a drought striking the nation. Precipitation had decreased by nearly half in the previous year, leaving dams with dwindling water supplies to fuel the country.
The protests in Khuzestan province come as Iran struggles through repeated waves of infections in the coronavirus pandemic and as thousands of workers in its oil industry have launched strikes for better wages and conditions.
Iran’s economy also has struggled under US sanctions since then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, crashing the value of the Islamic Republic’s rial currency.
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