Hundreds of riot police were deployed in Isfahan, Iran, on Saturday, a day after dozens were arrested in violent protests against the drying up of a life-giving river.
Security officers used tear gas during fights with stone-throwers in the dry bed of the Zayadneh Rood river, which runs through the city, according to the Fars and ISNA news agencies.
On Saturday, police General Hassan Karami said, “We have arrested 67 of the principal actors and agitators behind the issues.” He estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 “rioters” took part in the demonstration.
According to an Isfahan city resident, the situation was “quiet” on Saturday, with streets vacant and riot police stationed on the city’s Khadjou bridge.
The protest was the latest since November 9, when protests began in Isfahan, some 340 kilometres (210 miles) south of Tehran, a tourist destination known for its beautiful mosques and heritage buildings, including a historic bridge spanning the river. It was, however, the first to turn violent.
Last week’s gatherings drew between 30,000 and 40,000 farmers and city dwellers, according to Karami.
Since November 9, the riverbed has served as a rallying point for farmers and others from across Isfahan province protesting a scarcity of water.
The authorities are being accused of diverting water from the city to serve the adjacent province of Yazd, which is also in severe need of supplies.
“I used to walk down the riverbank with friends, but now riot police are stationed in huge numbers near the Khajou bridge, and people are being advised to avoid the area,” a woman in her fifties remarked.