Iranian police cracked down on protests over cuts to natural water supplies after they turned violent, destroying businesses and prompting further condemnation of President Hassan Rouhani for failing to make investments in the energy sector.
The protests, sparked by concerns about reduced water supply in rural areas, was being watched closely on social media, as one detained protester described it as “a riot in a much more civilized way.”
More than 200 people have been arrested following a flash mob attack on a shop owned by an Iranian religious bookseller, according to BBC Persia.
The bakery shop in Isfahan was occupied by 50 protesters, one of whom had made use of the building’s electricity after cutting off the supply, according to BBC Persia.
Demonstrators threw stones at the shop, which was set on fire, destroying the roof and collapsing the first floor, and smashed three other shops inside.
Citing a government official, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported late Saturday that the demonstrators had stolen wheat and basmati rice.
State media initially said clashes between demonstrators and police had been controlled, but the situation quickly turned hostile.
On Saturday evening, BBC Persia quoted a witness as saying the protests had become much more aggressive, with a minor scuffle with police. On Sunday, they also said angry protesters blocked the main road leading to the capital, shouting “Death to the dictator.”
Reports indicate dozens of fires have also been set after residents frustrated with shortages looted some shops, NBC News reported.
The protests came less than a week after another unrest over environmental issues in the southwest, where in the southern city of Dalei some homes experienced water shortages in recent days.
The water supply and management was recently in the spotlight after water from the Arvand river was diverted through Iran’s Geyfi dam project, which was supposed to provide irrigation to the southwest, according to The Independent.
As of Saturday night, the protests, which have been going on for several days, appeared to have calmed, but local businesses are struggling as customers remain wary about water supply.
“My shop used to have 100 customers on Monday, now we get three to five. On Tuesday I had to ask a police officer to open my door; now I have to call a security guard,” Fawzia Bakhsh said, referring to the break-in.
In a country where the president has proclaimed national sovereignty over most aspects of life, a dam project should have received government approval, according to protests organizers.