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Iran Protests Continue Amid Internet Shutdown, Power Cuts And Arrests

Protests continued in four cities in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan Province for a ninth night amid extensive Internet blackout, power cuts and the overwhelming presence of security forces, which local sources say amounts to "unannounced martial law".

Sources speaking to Iran International TV said thousands of anti-riot special forces, Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) forces and other security forces have been stationed in various areas of provincial capital Ahvaz, but protests in some areas of the city including Kouy-e Alavi, Kamplou, Lashgarabad and Kiyan Shahr continued Friday night. Protesters burned tires and chanted anti-government slogans in these areas as well as in the cities of Mahshahr, Sousangard and Shadegan.

According to these sources, the IRGC and other security forces arrested scores of protesters in Khuzestan cities Friday including some protesters in Ahvaz and Mahshahr who were taken from hospitals where they were receiving treatment for their injuries and those who had been previously arrested during nation-wide protests of November 2019. Sources speaking to Iran International said many protesters wounded by special anti-riot forces' bird shots have not sought treatment in hospitals for the fear of being arrested. 

Iranian Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) Saturday said hundreds have been arrested in Khuzestan since July 15 but verifying their identities has been difficult due to lack of transparency in official reports. HRANA has published names of 10 killed and 102 detained by security forces in Khuzestan including a 12-year-old child. 

Mobile Internet blackout which began four days ago continued Friday evening in Ahvaz and other cities and there were extensive power cuts in many areas of the city as darkness fell. Connection disturbances also affected broadband in many areas preventing videos and reports of the protests to be posted on social media. Mobile operators reconnected their Internet services in Ahvaz Saturday morning. Over 90 percent of Iranians completely rely on mobile Internet for connecting to the Internet.

Local sources also told Iran International that security forces used tear gas and fired live ammunition at protesters in Mahshahr. Protests also continued in several neighborhoods of Sousangard despite heavy presence of security forces, Internet blackout and extensive power cuts.

On Friday there were also some rallies and anti-government chanting in support of Khuzestan protesters in Jonghan in neighboring Kohgiloye and Boyer Ahmad Province, Robat Karim, a city to the south of the capital Tehran, and Meybod in Yazd Province where there is a large Khuzestani community who fled there during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) .

State media reported Thursday that commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Hossein Salami, had arrived in Ahvaz, capital of the province, to inspect the situation on the ground in places most affected by the water crisis and IRG's water projects in the region.

Vice-President Es'haq Jahangiri is also visited the region and held a meeting with chiefs of local Arab tribes. Addressing a group of local officials and leaders, Jahangiri urged them to be "vigilant" to prevent events in Khuzestan "which could make the US very happy". A video of the meeting shows one of the local Arab leaders strongly protesting government policies at the meeting.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for the first time since protests began in Khuzestan made a brief reference to the situation in a rare, rather conciliatory tone without threats of suppressing the protests. "People have voiced their dissatisfaction and they can’t be blamed [for it] at all. They’re upset. Water isn’t a minor issue, especially not in the hot climate of Khuzestan," he said and demanded that people avoid anything that would "please the enemies". However, he did not condemn the violence perpetrated by security forces under his overall command, which meant that the current policy of suppressing the protests and detaining people would continue.

In a statement released Saturday, Iran's former Queen Farah Pahlavi expressed her sympathy with protesters but urged them to avoid violence against security forces as much as possible to prevent giving them an excuse for crackdown while also calling on the police and members of the Revolutionary Guards not to use violence against the protesters who are demanding their most basic needs to be met.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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