Clashes erupted on Saturday when Iranian security forces attacked tens of thousands of environmental protesters calling for the preservation of Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran.
Demonstrators in the majority Azeri cities of Oroumiyeh, Tabriz and Ahar took to the streets to show their rage at the authorities inaction to save Lake Urmia, the Middle East’s largest lake and the third largest salt-water lake in the world, from drying up.
Sources told GVF that thousands of demonstrators in Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan Province, had begun their march at 6pm from the city’s Bazar and moved towards the local governorate building. However, the peaceful protesters were met with security force, who confronted them with brute force.
Anti-riot police forces on motorbikes attacked marchers and used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse the crowds. A number of protesters are said to have been injured as a result of baton blows and many others were arrested during the clashes. For hours, Tabriz citizens stayed on the streets of he city’s central districts leading to sporadic clashes in later hours.
Also, in Oroumiyeh, capital of West Azerbaijan province, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) has reported that tens were arrested, while security forces used rubber bullets to attack demonstrators.
According to the BBC’s Persian service, security forces had been on standby since Saturday morning in preparation for planned marches, which called on Iranian authorities to take swift action to protect Urmia Lake.
In Ahar, another important city in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, a heavy security atmosphere had been prevalent since the early hours of 3 September.
Security was also tight in the area around Iran’s parliament (Majlis) in the country’s capital Tehran as many environmental activists had called for protests in front of Majlis against Iranian lawmakers’ indifference towards Urmia Lake’s fate.
Iranian lawmakers recently voted against allocating funds to channel water from the Araz River to help raise the level of the lake. In addition, in a move that has enraged many Iranians, the parliamentarians proposed relocating those living in the vicinity of Lake Urmia.
This is the second time in less than a week that such protests take place in Iran’s Azerbaijan. Thousands descended into the streets last Sunday to demand that authorities take action to save Urmia Lake.