On Saturday, June 30, police and Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf city of Khorramshahr fired opened fire on demonstrators, killing one and injuring several others. Clashes broke out between police and groups of local residents who had come out on the streets to protest against the severe shortage of drinking water in the city, and many people shared videos of the violence on social media. The situation in in Khorramshahr remains tense and the city is on a high-security alert.  

Over the last few days, residents of Abadan and Khorramshahr in the province of Khuzestan have staged protests over water shortages. As with protests earlier this month in Kazerun in Fars province, demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans, including “It is a lie that America is our enemy; our enemy is right here;” “Death to Rouhani;” and “Death to the Islamic Republic.”

Water and Sewage Authority officials from the two cities had announced that they had to cut off water supplies due to a burst water main in Ghadir, and had promised that by Friday, June 29 things would return to normal. They had also blamed the high salt content in drinking water on an advance of seawater from the Persian Gulf into the Karun, Arvand and Shatt al-Arab rivers, which supply drinking water to the area. 

When Friday arrived and the promises were not realized, residents staged a peaceful demonstration outside Khorramshahr’s Friday Mosque, a symbol of the Iran-Iraq eight-year war in the 1980s. For the first time since the end of the war, Friday prayers were delayed because of the protest rally.

“Unfortunately,” said Abdollah Sameri, representative of Khorramshahr to the parliament, “a number of thugs among a crowd of 150 in front of the Friday Mosque demanding water chanted anti-regime slogans.”

Before the start of Friday prayers, Khorramshahr’s governor Valiollah Hayatifar went into the crowd to talk to protesters, but when the demonstrators began chanting slogans like “We don’t want incompetent officials” and “resign, you incompetent,” he left the scene.

In an interview with IranWire, a spokesman for the office of Hojatoleslam Mousavi, Khorramshahr’s Friday Prayers Leader, said the problem of salty city water had been partially solved and by Saturday June 30, the situation would return to normal. But on Saturday, a number of Khorramshahr residents told IranWire that they saw no noticeable improvement. “When we saw the high level of salt in the water, we first thought that the problem was with our home water purification device,” one resident named Zohreh told IranWire, “so we added another device and now we are using both, but the water is still unbearably salty.”

At Least One Killed

On the night of June 29, after many days of enduring the water crisis, protesters again took to the streets of Khorramshahr. This time, however, the demonstration turned violent as police and anti-riot units fired shots into the crowd. According to eyewitnesses, at least one person was killed and several of the protesters were wounded. “People were just standing in Falakeh Allah Square and chanting,” a protester named Abodollahi told IranWire. “Suddenly the police started spraying tear gas and people escaped toward New Bridge out of fear.”

Another eyewitness said: “The agents closed the escape route and would not even allow cars to go through. They even broke windshields. People would have stayed calm if the police had not started shooting and had not broken windshields. Firetrucks used water cannons. [The square] was covered with tear gas smoke. People had occupied the square for about half an hour and had been only chanting. Then suddenly the police attacked and started shooting.”

“One video posted [online] shows Khorramshahr Museum on fire,” Abodollahi said. “I was near the museum and saw that the police themselves set it on fire. How could the people have done it when they were not allowed to go into the museum?”

According to eyewitnesses and the videos sent to IranWire, after the police and members of the Revolutionary Guards shot directly at the protesters, a number of demonstrators carrying Kalashnikovs started to shoot back at security agents.

Citizen journalists for IranWire say that, at the time of writing, the situation in Khorramshahr remains chaotic. Police and Revolutionary Guards are trying to get control of the city, but sporadic protests continue around.

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