Tehran, Iran: “Rioters” shot dead a police officer in southwestern Iran, state media reported Wednesday, following nearly a week of protests against water shortages in the drought-hit region.
The officer was killed in the port city of Mahshahr in Khuzestan province, the official IRNA news agency said.
“During Tuesday night riots in Taleqani (a neighborhood of Mahshahr) officers… were shot at from a rooftop,” it quoted acting county governor Fereydoun Bandari as saying.
“One officer was martyred and another injured in the leg.”
Bandari did not specifically link the shooting to the past week’s protests over water shortages.
Iran’s Etemad newspaper said internet access was disrupted in the provincial capital, Ahvaz, and completely cut in the town of Shadegan, where state media reported on Saturday that a protester had been shot dead.
Khuzestan is Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest but has been hit by a persistent drought that has led to protests over water in several towns and cities since last week.
Over the past few days, Farsi-language media based abroad have broadcast videos that they said showed protests in Ahvaz, Izeh, Susangerd, Shadegan, and Hamidiyeh as well as Mahshahr.
They said security forces had forcibly dispersed protesters but domestic media have played down the reports.
The videos shared on social media could not be independently verified.
Khuzestan governor Qasem Soleimani-Dashtaki on Tuesday denied reports of further deaths among protesters.
“We have strongly emphasized that the security forces do not violently confront the people, let alone open fire,” the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.
“If some are armed and are doing something (other than peacefully demonstrating), then the law tells us a different thing. But the people are dear to us,” he said.
Khuzestan is home to a largely Sunni Arab minority, which has frequently complained of marginalization in mainly Shiite Iran.
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 neighboring 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.