An Iranian police officer and another person have been killed in the country's restive southwest amid ongoing demonstrations over water shortages, state media reported on Wednesday, raising the death toll so far in the unrest to at least three.
According to the state-run IRNA news agency, gunfire killed the officer in the city of Mahshar and another suffered a gunshot wound to his leg.
The report blamed “rioters” for the killing, without elaborating. Iranian state television reported later Wednesday that a “citizen” had been killed in the demonstrations in the town of Izeh, without providing details. Another 14 police officers suffered injuries in the unrest, the TV report said.
A third man was killed earlier in the protests, according to Iranian media reports. Iran has in the past blamed demonstrators for deaths occurring amid heavy-handed crackdowns by security forces.
There have been six days of continuous protests in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province, home to ethnic Arabs who complain of discrimination by Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was following closely reports that Iranian security forces fired on protesters. “We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves .... without fear of violence, without fear of arbitrary detention by security forces," he said.
Water worries in the past have sent angry demonstrators into the streets in Iran. The country has faced rolling blackouts for weeks now, in part over what authorities describe as a severe drought. Precipitation had decreased by almost 50 percent in the last year, leaving dams with dwindling water supplies.
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“As nearly 5 million Iranians in Khuzestan are lacking access to clean drinking water, Iran is failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health,” the group Human Rights Activists in Iran said.
The protests in Khuzestan come as Iran struggles through repeated waves of infections in the coronavirus pandemic and as thousands of workers in its oil industry have launched strikes for better wages and conditions.
Iran’s economy also has struggled under U.S. sanctions since then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, crashing the value of the Islamic Republic’s currency, the rial.