For more than two weeks, demonstrations have been organized by residents of Isfahan who complain about the terrible drought, and who accuse the authorities of diverting water from the Zayandeh Rud river in this city in the center of the country, – at 400 km south of Tehran – to supply the neighboring province of Yazd which is also in dire need of water.
For the first time Friday, November 26, the demonstration was accompanied by clashes between the police and protesters. Nourodin Soltanian, spokesperson for Isfahan University Hospital, quoted on Saturday by the Mehr news agency, reported injured protesters, including « Two in serious condition ».
« We arrested 67 of the main perpetrators and troublemakers », a senior national police official, General Hassan Karami, told the Fars news agency. He reported« Around 2,000 to 3,000 rioters in the Friday unrest ». The arrests were carried out by the police, the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the intelligence services.
Tear gas grenades against throwing stones
On Saturday, the city of Isfahan was calm according to witnesses and riot police were deployed there. « I used to walk in the bed of the river with friends but today the riot police are deployed in large numbers near the Khadjou bridge and they ask residents to avoid this area », said a fifty-something who was reached by phone.
Friday, « After the departure of the farmers [du point de rassemblement], opportunists and counter-revolutionaries remained in place ”, said Isfahan police chief Mohammad-Réza Mirheidari. The security services have « Could identify and arrest people who destroyed public property ».
Police fired tear gas canisters at protesters who responded with stone throws, smashing the windows of an ambulance and torching a police motorcycle, according to the Fars news agency.
“Due to the throwing of stones and the use of firecrackers and sound bombs, some of our colleagues were injured. Others were shot by hunting rifles ”Mr. Mirheidari added on television. « A policeman was also stabbed but his condition is satisfactory », he said again.
A dry river since 2000
The Zayandeh Rud River, which flows through Isfahan, has been dry since 2000, except for a few brief periods. It has become the main gathering place for demonstrators. According to Mr. Karami, « 30,000 to 40,000 farmers and residents of Isfahan participated in the rallies last week ».
On Saturday, the ultraconservative newspaper Kayhan accused « Mercenary thugs for having started riots » in Isfahan. On the other hand, the reformist newspaper Etemad saw in these gatherings the sign of a « Protesters’ lack of confidence in the government to solve the problems ».
The United States, Iran’s sworn enemy, have declared themselves « Deeply worried » of the « Violent repression » against demonstrators « Peaceful » in Isfahan, under the terms of the State Department. « The Iranian people have the right to express their frustration and hold their government to account ».
On Thursday, an agreement was reached between farmers in the Isfahan region and authorities on the distribution of 50 million cubic meters of water, according to Fars. According to this agency, a pipe carrying water from Isfahan province to Yazd was destroyed Thursday evening by a bulldozer, as well as three water tanks. As a result, drinking water in localities of Yazd was cut off.
Arid country, Iran has experienced chronic drought for years, resulting in regular flooding caused by the combination of hardening of the soil and more or less violent rainfall.