Iranian state security forces have opened fire on civilian protestors demonstrating against the scarcity of clean water supplies in the south of the country this weekend.
The marches began peacefully enough, with demonstrators from the oil-rich Khuzestan province chanting in Arabic and Farsi, on Friday. But as the protests entered their third day, reports began to emerge of heavy rifle and machine gun fire from Government personnel.
Videos from the streets of Khorramshahr and Abadan, among others, show demonstrators being forced to drag their fellow activists away from the conflict after the fighting left them unable to walk.
The Iranian state news agency reported that the protests had turned violent, but issued press statements commenting only on the aggressive actions of the demonstrators, noting that the security forces had responded with tear gas grenades, but omitting any reference to gunfire.
Scattered violence and clashes between protestors and Government forces have also reached the capital, with reports of brief instances of violence emerging over the weekend.
It is as yet unclear as to how many of the protestors have been wounded, critically or otherwise.
While the protestors were campaigning against the Government’s handling of a years-long drought in the region, it is thought that tensions were compounded by the ongoing nationwide economic crisis.
Last week, the Iranian leadership issued a series of threats towards the country’s civilians. Business owners and workers were warned that, if they chose to march against the Government, they would be labelled traitors and could face punishment as severe as the death penalty.
The head of the country’s judiciary was very outspoken on the matter. “The enemy is now trying to disrupt our economy through a psychological operation,” Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani said. “In recent days some tried to shut down the Bazaar, but their plot was thwarted by the police.”
This threatening rhetoric escalated to the international stage over the weekend as rumours circulated about a US-Saudi deal to price Iran out of the oil market. Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri told reporters that “if any country attempts to take Iran’s place in the oil market in this battle, we will consider it a big treachery to the Iranian nation and the world community and they will surely pay for this betrayal someday.”
The eyes of the world now fall on Iran. Will the regime in Tehran be able to withstand the pressure of a popular uprising, or will it fall back on that tried and tested tactic of dictatorial Governments the world over and come out guns blazing?