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Iran: Demonstrator shot dead during protests over water shortages

Official blames 'opportunists and rioters' for shooting of man during second night of protests in Khuzestan province
Images and videos posted this week on social media appeared to show protests in several Khuzestan towns (Twitter)

A demonstrator was shot dead during the second night of protests over water shortages in southwest Iran, a local official said on Saturday, blaming armed protesters for the death.

The man was killed in the town of Shadegan, in Khuzestan province, the official IRNA news agency said.

The province is Iran's main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest, but it has been hit by a persistent drought that has led to tensions since late March.

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"Last night (Friday), a number of Shadegan's people had gathered to protest water shortages due to the drought, during which opportunists and rioters shot dead one of the demonstrators," the county's acting governor, Omid Sabripour, told IRNA.

Sabripour said the perpetrators "sought to agitate the people by shooting in the air" and a "young Shadegan resident" was shot in the process.

In separate comments to the ISNA news agency, Sabripour said the fire was directed at both the demonstrators and security forces.

He added that the victim was a "30-year-old passer-by" and that those responsible were identified and some arrested on Friday night, with a manhunt underway for the others.

Iran has endured repeated droughts over the past decade, particularly in the south.

Earlier this month, President Hassan Rouhani said this year's drought was "unprecedented" with average rainfall down 52 percent compared to the previous year.

'Insecurity'

Khuzestan's governor had on Friday dismissed videos of protests across the province as "fake".

"Some seek to agitate the people and publish fake videos," Qasem Soleimani-Dashtaki told IRNA.

Videos on social media apparently showed protests in several Khuzestan towns, including Susangerd, Mahshahr, and Hamidiyeh, as well as Shadegan.

Farsi-language media based abroad said security forces had cracked down on protesters demonstrating against severe water shortages on Thursday, but domestic media played down the reports.

Addressing the discontent, Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah warned on Friday that "Khuzestan's insecurity means lack of security for the whole country".

He blamed the water shortages on "mistakes and unjustified decisions" such as the transfer of water from Khuzestan's rivers to other provinces, ISNA reported.

On Friday, the government sent a delegation to Khuzestan to address the problem.

Surging demand

Earlier this month, rolling blackouts began in the capital Tehran and several other large cities, which officials blamed on the impact of the drought on hydroelectric power generation as well as surging demand.

Power cuts in the peak summer months are not uncommon in Iran but the ongoing drought has intensified the situation.

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Khuzestan is home to a large Sunni Arab community, which has frequently complained of marginalisation in mainly Shia Iran.

In 2019 the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that also shook other areas of the Islamic republic.

Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms blowing in from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Iraq have dried up Khuzestan's once fertile plains.

Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts, and their intensity and frequency, in turn, threaten food security.