Iran: Clashes leave two Revolutionary Guard officers killed in southeastern province
A second officer from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died from wounds he sustained during clashes on Friday, state media said on Saturday.
At least 20 people were killed in an exchange of fire in the city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, as protests continued to sweep the country over the death of Mahsa Amini.
The incident happened after worshippers from the southeastern province left Friday prayer and joined anti-government demonstrations. Official media and opposition figures provided different versions of how the violence erupted.
The US public broadcaster Voice of America cited Dubai-based Iranian dissident Habibollah Sarbazi as saying that police opened fire at protesters who had gathered near a police station in the city and threw rocks at it.
The violence erupted after a "terrorist raid on military forces", the official Iranian news agency IRNA said.
The provincial governor of Sistan and Baluchestan, Hossein Khiabani, said on Friday that 19 were killed and some 20 others were wounded, including police officers and Colonel Ali Mousavi, a provincial intelligence officer in the IRGC.
Another officer of the elite military unit, commander Hamid-Reza Hashemi, died from his wounds on Saturday morning, according to IRNA.
On Saturday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said an armed rebel group named Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) has claimed responsibility for the attack near the police station in Zahedan.
Poverty-stricken Sistan and Baluchestan, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a flashpoint for clashes with drug smuggling gangs as well as with rebels from the Baluchi minority.
The protests on Friday came against the backdrop of nationwide demonstrations over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini apparently at the hands of Iran's so-called "morality police".
According to the local media, anger in Zahedan on Friday was partly fuelled by a case involving the alleged sexual harassment of a teenage girl by a police officer in the neighbouring port city of Chabahar.
Angry protesters set ablaze public properties, banks and police cars in the city after reports of the gunfights, according to Anadolu Agency.
"Several chain stores were looted and set on fire, and several banks and government centres were also damaged," Khiabani told state TV.
The deadly incident came amid a harsh government crackdown on protesters denouncing the death of Amini. At least 52 people have been killed since protests began in mid-September and hundreds more injured, according to Amnesty International.
The London-based rights group said on Friday that Iran's highest military body instructed the commanders of armed forces to "severely confront" protesters, according to leaked documents it obtained.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Wednesday that the death of Amini had "saddened" everyone in the Islamic Republic, but warned that "chaos" would not be accepted amid spreading protests.