Iranian police announced on Saturday the arrest of nearly 70 people the day after a rally punctuated by violence protesting against the drying up of an iconic river in Isfahan, in the center of the country.
For more than two weeks, protests have been organized by residents of the country’s third largest city who have complained about the terrible drought that has hit the region for years.
They also blame the authorities for diverting water from the city to supply the neighboring province of Yazd, which is also in dire need of water.
For the first time on Friday, the demonstration was accompanied by clashes between the police and protesters.
Nourodin Soltanian, spokesperson for the Isfahan University Hospital, quoted on Saturday by the Mehr news agency, reported wounded demonstrators, including “two (…) in serious condition”.
“We have arrested 67 of the main perpetrators and troublemakers,” a senior national police official, General Hassan Karami, told Fars news agency.
He said “about 2 to 3,000 rioters in the unrest on Friday”.
The arrests were carried out by the police, the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic, and the intelligence services.
The Zayandeh-Roud river which crosses Isfahan has been dry since 2000, except for a few brief periods. It has become the main gathering place for demonstrators.
On Saturday, the city of Isfahan was calm, witnesses said, and riot police were deployed there.
– “Lack of confidence” –
“I used to walk in the river bed with friends but today riot police are deployed in large numbers near the Khadjou bridge and they ask residents to avoid this area,” he said. declared a fifty-something reached by telephone.
According to Karami, “30 to 40,000 farmers and residents of Isfahan participated in the rallies last week.”
Friday, “after the departure (of the demonstration) of farmers, opportunists and counter-revolutionaries remained on the spot”, affirmed in the evening on television the chief of the police of Isfahan, Mohammad-Réza Mirheidari.
And, according to him, the security apparatus, in particular the police, “could easily identify and arrest those who destroyed public property.”
Police fired tear gas canisters at protesters on Friday who responded with stone throws, smashing the windows of an ambulance, torching a police motorcycle and street furniture, according to Fars.
“Due to the throwing of stones and the use of firecrackers and sound bombs, some of our colleagues were injured while others were shot from hunting rifles,” Mirheidari added.
“A police officer was also stabbed but his condition is satisfactory,” he said.
On Thursday, an agreement was reached between farmers in the Isfahan region and the authorities on the distribution of 50 million cubic meters of water, according to the Fars agency.
According to the same agency, a pipe carrying water from Isfahan province to Yazd was destroyed overnight from Thursday to Friday by a bulldozer, as well as three water tanks. As a result, drinking water in some localities in Yazd province has been cut off.
The press was divided on the events on Saturday. The ultraconservative newspaper Kayhan accused “mercenary thugs of having started riots”.
On the other hand, the reformist newspaper Etemad saw in these gatherings the sign of a “lack of confidence of the demonstrators towards the government to solve the problems”.
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.