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Iran blames Britain for Ahwazi unrest

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi has blamed the British government for causing unrest in Khuzestan, the province that covers much of the Ahwazi Arab homeland.

Responding to the latest wave of protests in July, the AFP news agency quoted Asefi as saying: "According to the acquired information, unfortunately, Britons were involved in these riots. Some of the individuals behind the move had been trained at British military bases in Iraq. On different occasions, we raised objection to the British officials and warned them against such interference."

The regime also blamed Britain for the uprising in April, when more than 160 unarmed Ahwazis were killed by security forces in mass demonstrations, as well as bomb attacks in Ahwaz City in June.

Nasser Ban-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "The regime is effectively saying that the Ahwazi people will do whatever foreign governments tell them. It is absurd. Apart from some possible forced confessions signed under torture, where is the evidence to substantiate British involvement in Al-Ahwaz?

"The fact is that the anti-government mass protests by Ahwazi people are a completely spontaneous reaction to government oppression. Protestors are armed with rocks, tyres and anything else they can use in acts of civil disobedience. They do not have guns. Is Asefi afraid the British are smuggling rocks into Iran to overthrow the Revolutionary Guards? Does he think Ahwazis need special training from the British in order to throw rocks?

"Asefi and the rest of the regime are in denial. The problems are rooted in the oppressive levels of poverty endured by Ahwazis in Khuzestan. More than 50% live in absolute poverty and in Arab-populated areas of the province child malnutrition is at 80%, illiteracy is over 60% and unemployment affects over half the population. This is a direct result of the policy of Persianisation in the province, in which Arab-owned land is being confiscated and transferred to non-Arab owners and Arab identity is being eradicated.

"Neutral observers are concluding that government policies and mismanagement of resources are responsible for unrest in the province. Nobody seriously believes that young Arabs throwing rocks at police are British agents. The regime is using unrest to distract from its failure to maintain its obligations towards nuclear non-proliferation."

After visiting the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in July, the UN's Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, said: "When you visit Ahwaz, in terms of the very adverse conditions in the neighbourhoods, there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections."

In April, a petition to the then President Khatami signed by 180 members of the Iranian parliament condemned the behaviour of "executive officials", who they claimed had failed in their duties to Iran's Arab population and had done little to address the root socio-economic causes that led to the April uprising.