Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that Iranians protesting over water shortages in the southwest cannot be blamed, and called on officials to deal with the water problem, Iran's state media reported. "The people showed their displeasure ... but we cannot really blame the people and their issues must be taken care of," Khamenei was quoted by Iranian news agencies as saying. "Now, thank God, all the various agencies, governmental and non-governmental, are working (to resolve the water crisis) and should continue with all seriousness," Khamenei added. Image Credit: AFP

Tehran: One person was shot dead when rioting erupted in western Iran late Thursday in sympathy with the drought-hit province of Khuzestan which has seen a week of protests, state television reported.

Two people also suffered gunshot wounds in the rioting in the town of Aligudarz in Lorestan province, which neighbours Khuzestan, the broadcaster reported on its website.

“Yesterday evening, rioting broke out for several hours in some streets in Aligudarz,” it said, adding that people had taken to the streets “on the pretext of the water problems in Khuzestan.”

“Shots were fired by unknown elements,” the broadcaster said, adding that the security forces had been deployed to tackle the rioters.

It was the first time state media had reported protests or casualties outside Khuzestan since protests broke out there over the drought, which has gripped the province since March.

At least three people have been killed, including a police officer and a protestor, according to Iranian media and officials, who have accused “opportunists” and “rioters” of shooting at protesters and security forces.

Farsi-language media based abroad have broadcast videos they said were of protests in several towns and cities, showing hundreds of marching people, chanting slogans against authorities, while surrounded by anti-riot police.

AFP could not verify the authenticity of the videos.

President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Thursday that Iranians 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 Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest.

But it is also 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.

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.