Police fire tear gas at Iranians protesting water shortages in city of Isfahan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Police fired tear gas and birdshots while using batons to fight protesters in a central Iranian city that witnessed days of demonstrations calling for government action over a drought, online video.

The social media videos and others by activists show police and protesters clash in the dry riverbed of the Zayandehrud River in Isfahan city. The videos match coverage from The Associated Press and satellite imagery of the area, as well as some semi-official reports from the Iranian news agency about the riots.

Videos from human rights activists in Iran show protesters throwing stones at the police, while others show bloody protesters, including a man who appeared to have wounds in his back from being shot by birds. They also show similar unrest in nearby streets in Isfahan, which is 340 kilometers south of the capital Tehran.

The Iranian semi-official Fars news agency said a strong presence of security forces had ended the gathering of around 500 people in Isfahan. In a separate report by the semi-official Tasnim agency, unknown perpetrators damaged a pipeline that transports water from Isfahan to other provinces on Thursday evening.

Some people in Isfahan reported later on Friday that mobile internet service in the city had been disrupted. The NetBlocks group reported an outage in recent days that also affected the southwestern city of Ahvaz amid water protests.

Iran has shut down both mobile and landlines in the past to stop the protests. This included a nationwide shutdown during protests in 2019 against rising government-set gasoline prices that killed over 300 people, according to Amnesty International.

Farmers reportedly ended a long protest in the region on Thursday after authorities promised to compensate them for losses in drought-stricken areas in central Iran.

Drought has been a problem in Iran for about 30 years, but has gotten worse over the past decade, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The Iranian Meteorological Organization says an estimated 97% of the country is currently experiencing some drought.

The agricultural area around Isfahan was once well supplied by the Zayandehrud River, but nearby factories have increasingly benefited from it over the years. The river once flowed under historic bridges in downtown Isfahan, but is now a barren stretch of dirt.

In 2012, farmers clashed with police in a town in Isfahan province. In the process, a water pipe broke that carried around 50 million cubic meters of water to a neighboring province every year. Similar protests have continued sporadically since then.

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