Iran: Supreme Leader Khamenei says water crisis protesters cannot be blamed

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that people cannot be blamed for expressing their displeasure after Iranians protesting over water shortages.

Asking officials to deal with the water problem, Khamenei said, ”we cannot really blame the people because the issue of water is not a small one especially in Khuzestan’s hot climate.”

Khuzestan is Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest but has been gripped by drought since March, triggering protests in several towns and cities over the past week.

However, Khamenei warned residents of the drought-hit southwest not to give ammunition to the enemy after a week of protests that has seen at least three deaths.

Iranian media and officials have said at least three people have been killed, including a police officer and a protester, accusing “opportunists” and “rioters” of shooting at protesters and security forces.

But Amnesty International said Friday it had confirmed the deaths of at least eight protesters and bystanders, including a teenage boy, as the authorities resorted to live ammunition in a bid to quell the protests.

President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Thursday that the people have “the right to speak, express themselves, protest and even take to the streets, within the framework of the regulations”.

Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of the Supreme National Security Council, said “the security forces had been ordered to immediately release those detained during the recent incidents in Khuzestan, who had not have committed a criminal act”.

Khuzestan is home to a large Arab minority, and its people regularly complain of being marginalised by the authorities.

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

(With inputs from agencies)