Riot police were deployed in force on Saturday in the Iranian city of Isfahan, a day after dozens were arrested in violent protests over the drying up of a lifeblood river.
Security forces fired tear gas during the clashes with stone-throwers in the protest in the dry bed of the Zayadneh Rud that crosses the city, the Fars news agency and the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) said.
“We have arrested 67 of the main actors and agitators behind the troubles,” police General Hassan Karami said on Saturday.
He said between 2,000 and 3,000 “rioters” took part in the protest.
On Saturday, the situation was “calm” and streets empty, with riot police deployed on the city’s Khadjou Bridge, an Isfahan resident said.
US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violent crackdown against peaceful protestors.”
He wrote on Twitter that “the people of Iran have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable.”
The demonstration was the latest since protests started on Nov. 9 in Isfahan, about 340km south of Tehran, a tourist magnet due to its majestic mosques and heritage sites, including a historic bridge across the river.
However, it was the first to turn violent.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 farmers and city residents turned up for the gatherings last week, estimated Karami.
The riverbed has been the rallying spot for farmers and other people from across Isfahan Province protesting the lack of water.
Drought is a cause, but they also accuse the authorities of diverting water from the city to supply the neighboring province of Yazd, which is also desperately short on supplies.
During the clashes on Friday, some people set fire to objects in the city, Fars and ISNA reported.
“After the farmers left, the opportunists and counter-revolutionaries were left behind, which made it easy for the security apparatus, especially the police, to identify and arrest those who destroyed public and state property,” Isfahan Police Chief Mohammad-Reza Mirheidari said on television.
However, members of the security forces were hit by fire from hunting rifles, he said, without specifying how many.
One of them was stabbed, although his condition was not believed to be critical.
A Fars journalist said two bulldozers were used to destroy a pipe taking water from Isfahan Province to Yazd.
“Among the injured demonstrators, two are in a serious condition,” Nourodin Soltanian, spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.
On Saturday, the conservative daily Kayhan blamed the violence on “mercenary thugs,” whereas the pro-reform Etemad said the protests in Isfahan showed a “lack of trust in the government.”
On Sunday last week, more than 1,000 people marched toward the governor’s office in the western province of Chahar-Mahal Bakhtiari to demand a solution to water shortages, state media reported.
According to Fars, farmers and local authorities struck a deal on Thursday about water distribution.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with representatives from the provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Semnan earlier this month and vowed to resolve water issues.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the topic is the country’s top problem, without making reference to the protests.
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