While clashes between riot police and angry demonstrators continue in the Southwestern city of Kazeroon near Shiraz, local officials blame each other for the unrest that has claimed at least two lives according to official figures.
Vehemently defending the plan to divide the ancient city of Kazeroon, its representative to parliament has accused the local Friday Prayer leader of “provoking people to rebellion.”
“The source of the recent protests in Kazeroon is where Friday Prayer is held,” MP Hossein Rezazadeh said, adding that the plan wasn’t his idea. “The plan to divide Kazeroon has been on the table for 25 years. The city’s former MPs repeatedly promised to implement the plan but never fulfilled it.”
According to Rezazadeh, the plan was first proposed by the governor-general office of Fars Province.
Earlier, a local news outlet had reported, “A motion tabled by Rezazadeh will split Kazeroon into two counties,” giving prominence and executive power to “Rezazadeh’s birthplace, Qa’emeyyeh,” as the center of one of them, charging that the MP “has personal motives in supporting the motion.”
A local website also cited Rezazadeh as saying, “I am after what the people of the district [Qa’emeyyeh] have demanded and, whether some like it or not, I will follow up on the case.”
Despite these reports, Rezazadeh accused Kazeroon’s Friday Prayer leaders of feeding the people false information and encouraging them to revolt.
Thousands of people in Kazeroon have been protesting for nearly a year against the planned split, which they say would unfairly divide already scarce water resources. They also claim the borders would be drawn in such a way as to leave Kazeroon’s historic sites -- including the ancient city of Bishapur, founded in 226 AD.
Rezazadeh says the people have been misled by the prayer leaders. “Though they knew that Bishapur was not added to the boundaries of the new proposed city, they said otherwise to provoke people.”
Kazeroon’s MP went further by accusing an unnamed Tehran-based official from the Interior Ministry of sending messages to the city’s residents, telling them to pour into the streets and make international headlines.
The proposed plan has turned into a bitter dispute between Rezazadeh and Kazeroon’s Friday Prayer leader, mid-ranking cleric Mohammad Khorsand.
Khorsand, a de facto representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Kazeroon, fiercely opposes any changes to the boundaries of the city.
The dispute led to days of unrest in the city to the extent that the Interior Ministry announced on May 17, “The proposal to divide the ancient city of Kazeroon into two separate entities has been shelved for the time being,” adding, “The plan would be taken under consideration by experts and the people’s concerns would be taken into account in order to eliminate the plan’s deficiencies.”
Nonetheless, many of the protesters have dismissed the statement as a tactic to defuse the tension in Kazeroon.
State-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted Fars Province Chief Justice Ali Alghasi on May 19 as saying two people had been killed during clashes between security forces and protesters.
Locals on social media and those who have risked speaking to the media outside Iran despite government interception of communication lines, put the casualty toll much higher.
Despite a heavy security presence in Kazeroon, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Tehran, the ancient city was the scene of sporadic clashes on May 18.
According to local officials, the protesters burned a bank building and damaged public property and police vehicles.
“The protesters had earlier attacked security forces and burned two police vehicles on Thursday,” government’s official news agency, IRNA, reported.
Images and footage shared on social media depicted a heavy presence of police and Baseej paramilitary forces across Kazeroon, while the city’s Internet has been disconnected.
Many people on social media have criticized the state-run Radio & TV for covering events in Gaza while ignoring the bloody clashes in Kazeroon.