Iran Says Police Officer Killed In Sixth Night Of Protests Over Water Shortages

An Iranian police officer was killed in the southwestern province of Khuzestan during the sixth consecutive night of protests over severe water shortages, raising the official death toll in the unrest to three.

State-run broadcaster IRIB quoted a local official in the port city of Bandar Mahshahr, Fereydoun Bandari, as saying on July 21 that the officer was killed by gunfire in the city overnight, while another policeman sustained a gunshot wound to his leg.

State media blamed "rioters" for the killing.

Iran is facing its worst drought in at least 50 years, a natural event exacerbated by poor water management, that has hit agriculture and left dams with little water. Parts of the country have also experienced weeks of electricity blackouts.

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The protests also come as Iran struggles through another wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy suffers under U.S. sanctions. Thousands of workers in its oil industry have launched strikes for better wages and conditions.

Officials so far have confirmed the death of two young demonstrators in the water-shortage protests, which broke out on July 15, but unofficial reports put that number at five.

Human rights groups say the two were killed by security forces, an accusation rejected by the local government.

Iranian officials in the past have blamed protesters for deaths occurring during heavy-handed crackdowns by security forces.

In the latest wave of demonstrations in oil-rich Khuzestan Province, protesters took to the streets of a number of cities, including in the provincial capital, Ahvaz, as well as Izeh, Ramhormoz, Behbahan, Dezful, Shadegan, and Susangerd.

Video posted on social media showed protesters blocking roads and chanting slogans against the country’s theocratic government and its head, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as security forces try to disperse crowds with tear gas.

In some videos, what appears to be the sound of gunfire can be heard.

Iran's Etemad newspaper reported overnight that Internet access was disrupted in Ahvaz and completely cut in Shadegan.

Meanwhile, a number of Iranian labor unions and associations, including the Teachers Organization, denounced the crackdown on the protesters and called on the authorities to engage with the "oppressed" people in Khuzestan to resolve the crisis.

"Police and security forces violently dispersed the peaceful demonstrations…by firing tear gas and shooting at defenseless people," the Union of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company said in a statement.

Oil-rich Khuzestan Province is home to an ethnic Arab minority that complains of discrimination and lack of services.

With reporting by AFP