By Ramin Mostaghim & Jonny Hallam
At least three people have been killed during violent protests over water shortages in Iran, according to state media.
The protests started in southwest Khuzestan province and spread to the nearby city of Aligoodarz in western Lorestan province.
Authorities are blaming the deaths in Aligoordarz on “suspicious bullets shot by some unknown people who penetrated among peaceful protesters,” state media said.
People have been demonstrating for more than a week over water shortages during Iran’s worst drought in over half a century that has affected households, agriculture, livestock farming, and led to power blackouts.
According to two independent sources in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, the actual number of people killed in over a week of protests is higher than officially reported.
One witness, who was at a protest in Khuzestan province, told CNN that people were shot dead by anti-riot police and security agents, and that a continued heavy security presence remained in Khuzestan on Saturday.
The dissident Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) on Saturday reported that at least 10 people died in the protests and an unknown number of people were injured.
At least 102 people have been arrested in the past 10 nights in 30 cities and towns across Iran, according to HRANA.
Several videos uploaded by social media users last week showed security forces using tear gas to disperse protesters, with another video on social media showing activists gathering outside the Tehran Interior Ministry to voice support for Khuzestan protesters.
“We call on law enforcement forces not to harm protesters calling (for) access to water,” a prominent activist, Narges Mohammadi, said in the video.
Security forces beefed up their presence in Tehran, where in the capital’s Azadi square, anti-riot police were seen stationed with armored vehicles.
Iran’s economy has been crippled partly by sanctions imposed mainly on its oil industry by former US President Donald Trump in 2018, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Workers, including thousands in the key energy sector, and pensioners have protested for months, with discontent growing over mismanagement, high unemployment and an inflation rate of more than 50%.