Iran's Khamenei says water crisis protesters cannot be blamed

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran September 14, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

DUBAI (Reuters) - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that Iranians protesting over water shortages cannot be blamed, and called on officials to deal with the water problem.

Street protests over water shortages spread from the oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan province to a nearby area overnight where one youth was shot dead with pellet guns and seven were injured, a police official said, blaming "counter-revolutionaries".

"The people showed their displeasure, but we cannot really blame the people because the issue of water is not a small one especially in Khuzestan's hot climate," Khamenei was quoted by state TV as saying, in reference to the protests.

"Now, thank God, all the various agencies, governmental and non-governmental, are working (to resolve the water crisis) and should continue with all seriousness," Khamenei added.

Demonstrators in the town of Aligudarz in Lorestan province marched to voice support for protesters in neighbouring Khuzestan late on Thursday on the eighth night of protests. Videos showed protesters chanting slogans against Khamenei.

Other videos from Aligudarz showed two young men who appeared to have been shot. Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.

The semi-official news agency Fars quoted a police official as saying several people were arrested after the unrest and the shootings in Aligudarz.

At least one policeman and three young men had been shot dead in earlier protests. Officials have blamed "rioters", but activists said on social media the protesters were killed by security forces in Khuzestan.

Amnesty International said on Friday at least eight people have been killed during the week-long crackdown.

"Video footage verified by Amnesty... and consistent accounts from the ground indicate security forces used deadly automatic weapons, shotguns with inherently indiscriminate ammunition, and tear gas to disperse protesters," it said.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said it could "corroborate widespread user reports of cellular network disruptions, consistent with a regional internet shutdown intended to control protests."

Authorities have curbed internet access during unrest in the past to make it more difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support and to communicate among themselves.

Iran's worst drought in 50 years has affected households, devastated agriculture and livestock farming, and led to power blackouts.

Iran's economy has been blighted by sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers, including thousands in the key energy sector, and pensioners have protested for months amid discontent over mismanagement, unemployment and inflation.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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