Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has claimed "rogues" shot and killed people protesting against the water crisis in Khuzestan, and encouraged demonstrators to only take part in "legal action".
Rouhani, who is now in the final month of his eight-year tenure as president, used a speech on Thursday to deploy the time-worn claim that outsiders were responsible for stoking the public unrest.
He called on people in the province not to allow "anti-Iran" elements to "abuse" the protests, adding: "If there is a problem, we should act legally and not let our enemies be happy."
In his speech, Rouhani conceded that people had the right to complain about matters related to water and sewage – and even, he said, “to take to the streets within the framework of regulations."
He took a similar approach to the fact that at least five named individuals having been shot dead since last Friday during confrontations with security forces. “Some people want to abuse us,” he said, “and a rogue person may use a firearm, and our loved ones may be killed."
These statements came amid escalating night-time clashes between thousands of civilians and riot police in Khuzestan. Earlier this week tanks were seen on the streets of Ahvaz and special forces have been flown in from elsewhere in Iran to suppress the demonstrations.
Although the internet and phone lines have been cut off in some parts of the province, some videos still leaked onto the internet last night that showed government forces firing directly at protesters. In one audio recording sent to IranWire’s Persian team last night, a man can be heard screaming at state forces not to shoot at him: “I’m not your opponent, I’m 22 years old, unemployed, do not shoot, be a man, have a little courage.”
The number of people detained during the Khuzestan protests is not yet clear. But locals in Susangerd told IranWire dozens had been arrested in that city alone. Hassan Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, tweeted earlier that security forces had been ordered to release all detainees who had not committed "criminal acts." So far, it is not known if anyone – and if so who – has been released.