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Iran: Anti-Government Demonstrations Erupt in Ahwaz

The first anti-government protests since last month's presidential elections erupted at the weekend in Ahwaz City.

Demonstrators chanted slogans denouncing Tehran's policy of ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs in the province of Khuzestan, the centre of the Ahwazi homeland.

According to Iran Focus, an Iranian opposition website, witnesses said heavy clashes broke out in the district of Shilang-Abad and soon spread to Lashkar-Abad, Panj Tabaqeh, Mashali, Kian-Pars, Kut-Abdollah, Khashayar, and Zarqan regions. The demonstrations escalated with police cars and state-owned banks set alight.

Barricades made of burning tyres were set up in some streets, while groups of protestors attacked State Security Force vehicles to free those who had been arrested by the police. Police fired on demonstrators in Kuy Enghelab.

Ahwaz City has recently experienced a rise in protests by Ahwazi Arabs, with more than 150 killed by security forces during two weeks of civil unrest in April. Khuzestan contains 80-90 per cent of Iran's oil reserves and represents around 10 per cent of OPEC's total output. None of the wealth generated is redistributed to the province's 4.5 million indigenous Ahwazi Arabs inhabitants, most of whom have been living in absolute poverty since their land was expropriated by Tehran for the oil, gas and sugar industries.

The Iranian government is implementing a policy for forced migration, driving the Ahwazis from Khuzestan to other provinces and populating the Ahwazi homeland with "compliant" ethnic groups, particularly those perceived to be loyal to the military or religious elite.

A combination of abject poverty and the government's ethnic cleansing policies have prompted a rise in civil unrest. This weekend's revolt indicates that Ahwazis have no faith in the new Ahmadinejad administration.

Useful documents:
The Economic Marginalisation of Ahwazis
Forced Migration and Land Confiscation
Human Rights Watch: Reports of Ethnic Violence Suppressed
The Identity and Ancestry of the Indigenous Khuzestani Arabs of Iran