Iran says police officer killed in unrest amid water protest

Tehran: An Iranian police officer was killed during unrest in the country’s restive southwest amid ongoing demonstrations over water shortages, state media reported Wednesday, raising the death toll in the unrest to at least three people.

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Gunfire killed the officer in the city of Mahshar and another suffered a gunshot wound to his leg, the state-run Irna news agency reported.

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Street protests over water shortages in southwest Iran continued for a sixth night on Tuesday amid rising violence, while residents in the capital of Tehran chanted anti-government slogans, according to videos posted on social media on Wednesday and Iranian news outlets.

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Several videos uploaded by social media users showed security forces using teargas to disperse protesters, and the semi-official news agency Fars said “rioters” shot dead one policeman and injured another in the port city of Mahshahr in the Khuzestan province.

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In the town of Izeh, a video showed demonstrators chanting “Reza Shah, bless your soul”, a reference to the king who founded the Pahlavi dynasty which was overthrown by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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After various opposition groups and activists called for demonstrations to support the Khuzestan protesters, videos, which surfaced on late Tuesday and early Wednesday, showed women chanting “Down with the Islamic Republic” at a Tehran metro station. At night, some people in the capital vented their anger with chants against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.

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At least two young men have been shot dead in the protests. Iran in the past has blamed demonstrators for deaths occurring amid heavy-handed crackdowns by security forces.

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There have been six days of continuous protests in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, home to ethnic Arabs who complain of discrimination by Iran’s Shiite theocracy.

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Water worries in the past have sent angry demonstrators into the streets in Iran. The country has faced rolling blackouts for weeks now, in part over what authorities describe as a severe drought. Precipitation had decreased by almost 50% in the last year, leaving dams with dwindling water supplies.

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“As nearly 5 million Iranians in Khuzestan are lacking access to clean drinking water, Iran is failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health,’’ the group Human Rights Activists in Iran said.

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The protests in Khuzestan 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.

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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 currency, the rial.

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