“People have shown their displeasure… but we can’t really blame the people and their problems need to be addressed,” Khamenei said, quoted by Iranian news agencies on Friday, in his first direct mention of the week-long protests.
“Now, thank goodness all the different agencies, governmental and non-governmental, are working [to resolve the water crisis] and should continue with all seriousness, ”Khamenei said.
His comments came after street protests spread Thursday evening from the oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan province to Aligudarz, a town in Lorestan province, where police said a youth was killed. by bullets and seven others wounded.
“Yesterday evening riots broke out for several hours in some streets of Aligudarz,” state media said, adding that people took to the streets “under the pretext of water problems in Khuzestan”. “Shots were fired by unknown elements,” the broadcaster said, adding that security forces had been deployed to fight the rioters.
The semi-official Fars news agency quoted police as saying several people were arrested after the unrest and shootings in Aligudarz, which a police official blamed on “counter-revolutionaries”.
Allegedly unverified videos of Aligudarz showed protesters chanting slogans against Khamenei. Other images showed two young men who appeared to have been shot.
At least one policeman and three young men had been shot dead in previous protests, but more deaths were feared.
Amnesty International said on Friday that at least eight people had been killed since the protests began.
“Video footage verified by Amnesty … and consistent accounts from the field indicate that security forces used deadly automatic weapons, shotguns with inherently blind ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters,” he said. -he declares.
Officials blamed the “rioters,” but activists said on social media that protesters were killed by security forces in Khuzestan, where sporadic internet slowdowns or blackouts have been reported for several days.
Internet blocking observatory NetBlocks said it could “corroborate widespread user reports of cellular network disruptions, in accordance with a regional Internet shutdown intended to control protests.”
Iran’s economy has been undermined by the harsh sanctions imposed by former United States President Donald Trump and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers, including thousands in the key energy sector, and retirees demonstrated for months amid discontent over mismanagement, unemployment and inflation.
President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech Thursday that Iranians have “the right to speak, express themselves, demonstrate and even take to the streets, within the framework of the regulations”.
Khuzestan is Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of the richest, but it has been plagued by droughts and water shortages for years due to summer heat waves and seasonal sandstorms coming from from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Iraq. This year the situation has worsened due to extremely high temperatures.
Officials admit the province has been hit hard, but say separatist groups are to blame for the violence and accuse foreign media of trying to take advantage of the situation to oppose the theocratic establishment.
In 2019, the region also saw some of the largest crowds in nationwide protests that have formed in the wake of the abrupt tripling in oil prices. Amnesty International said at least 208 people were killed in the protests, with internet access almost completely cut off across the country for nearly a week.