DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s Supreme Leader leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday said he understands protesters’ anger over a drought in the country’s southwest, as a fourth death related to ongoing demonstrations there was reported.
The remark, reported by state television, was the first direct comment on the protests by Khamenei since they began in the Khuzestan region a week ago. Semiofficial news agency Fars reported a man was killed by shotgun fire in street violence in the nearby city of Aligoudarz, which police blamed on “counterrevolutionary elements.”
“People showed their discontent, but we cannot have any complaint since the issue of water in the hot climate of Khuzestan is not a minor issue,” Khamenei was quoted as saying. He accused Iran’s enemies of trying to exploit the situation.
He praised the people of the region for their loyalty and efforts during the devastating war against Iraq in the 1980s, adding that “the people should not face problems“ anymore.
Protests have taken place in many cities and towns of Khuzestan, according to the Human Rights Activists in Iran group. Security forces have fired tear gas and water cannons, and have clashed with demonstrators, the group added.
On Friday, Amnesty International said security forces had used live ammunition during the protests, and it urged them not to do so. “Using live ammunition against unarmed protesters posing no imminent threat to life is horrifying,” is said in a statement.
Iranian state media had previously reported that a police officer and two civilians had been killed amid the protests. It pointed out online videos it alleges show demonstrators carrying firearms. Iran has in the past however blamed protesters for deaths that occur during heavy-handed crackdowns by security forces.
Mobile phone internet service in Iran was disrupted during the protests, according to Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org
The protests in Khuzestan come as Iran struggles through repeated waves of infection amid the coronavirus pandemic, and as thousands of workers in its oil industry are on strike to demand better wages and working conditions.
Iran’s economy has also struggled under U.S. sanctions since then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, crashing the value of the Islamic Republic’s currency, the rial.