Deadly Unrest Roils Iranian City

Deadly Unrest Roils Iranian City ...
wsj.com 26/02/2021 Military

Keywords:#Afghanistan, #Asia, #Baloch, #Baluchistan, #Europe, #Hassan_Rouhani, #Human_Rights, #Internet, #Iran, #Iranian, #Islamabad, #Islamic, #London, #Mahmoud_Vaezi, #Mahshahr, #Muslim, #Nations, #Nobel, #Pakistan, #Pakistani, #President, #Rouhani, #Saravan, #Shah, #Shirin_Ebadi, #Sistan, #South_Asia, #Sunni, #Tehran, #Trump, #United_Nations, #Wsj.com

Clashes between protesters and security forces in impoverished minority region follow killing of fuel traders
By Sune Engel Rasmussen in London and Aresu Eqbali in Tehran
Feb. 25, 2021
Protesters in Iran’s impoverished southeast clashed with security forces for a third consecutive day, in the latest challenge for a government facing public resentment over widespread economic hardship in the country.
A crowd attacked a police station in the city of Saravan with grenades and light arms on Thursday, killing one policeman before security forces repelled the rioters, the government said.
The unrest erupted earlier this week when protesters stormed a local governor’s building and another police station. Those incidents came in response to Revolutionary Guard patrols firing at alleged fuel smugglers crossing the Pakistani border, killing at least 10 people, according to rights activists in the area.
Iran’s presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi this week blamed Pakistani border guards for the shooting, saying they had fired at smugglers who intended to use border points designated for fuel traders. The government said two or three people had died.
A senior Pakistani official said he wasn’t aware of any formal complaint or allegation from Iran against his country’s forces, and that Pakistani troops hadn’t opened fire.
The Iranian government on Thursday afternoon said the situation had calmed down, but that no attackers had been arrested. The latest unrest has been limited to Saravan, but localized protests over economic discontent have in the past spread nationwide.
Internet and phone lines were partly cut off during the recent unrest, according to social-media users tracking internet traffic in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, of which Saravan is a part. Restricting internet access is a tactic used by Iranian authorities to prevent the spread of information and limit communication among protesters.
In recent years, protests rooted in economic discontent have presented significant security challenges for the government and prompted large-scale crackdowns, most recently in late 2019 when hundreds were killed in a crackdown on protests across the country. Those protests were triggered by an increase in fuel prices.
Iran’s government blames U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration for the country’s economic situation, which has been worsened by the economic slowdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sistan-Baluchistan, the second-largest of Iran’s 31 provinces by area, has for centuries been one of the country’s poorest and most marginalized areas. Its population mainly consists of the Baloch, a Sunni Muslim minority.
Iranian authorities have long maintained a strong security presence in the province because of a low-intensity insurgency there involving several militant groups—some separatist nationalists, others Sunni Islamic extremists—which have been labeled terrorists by Tehran.
The deputy provincial governor for security Mohammad Hadi Marashi told state media Thursday that some of the attackers behind the unrest were linked to opposition groups, without naming them.
Bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, the province lies on the main drug-trafficking route from South Asia to Europe. Amid high inflation, a depreciated currency and severely constrained international trade due to sanctions, smuggling petrol out of Iran can offer a significant illicit income. Iranians still enjoy some of the lowest fuel prices in the world because of large government subsidies.
President Hassan Rouhani has said he would intensify the fight against smuggling to improve the country’s economy. From March to November last year, Iranian authorities fined smugglers of particularly fuel and livestock about $570 million, a nearly 50% increase from the same period the year before.
Iranian social-media users in recent days accused authorities of resorting to violence against an impoverished population. Some drew parallels to the mass killing in the southwestern port city of Mahshahr in 2019, home to another Sunni minority, when Revolutionary Guard forces encircled protesters and killed up to 100 civilians.
The Defenders of Human Rights Center, an advocacy group headed by Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, on Wednesday wrote a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, urging an investigation into the killings by security forces in Sistan-Baluchistan.
—Saeed Shah in Islamabad contributed to this article.
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