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Iran's crack-down as Ahwaz Eid protests continue

Clashes between Ahwazi Arab youth and security forces have erupted after Iranian security forces fired on demonstrators in Ahwaz City on Wednesday, killing an unknown number of people.

On Thursday, there were mass demonstrations in the Arab towns of Maashor (Mahshahr) and Sarbandar, with reports of clashes between protestors and the police. There are unconfirmed reports that one of those injured in the shootings, 26-year-old Mashaf Neamani, died in hospital. There are also reports of other deaths, but the names of those killed are not yet known.

A bomb exploded in the the Dar-al-thura (Dayereh) district of Ahwaz City, which was the site of protests marking the Muslimn festival of Eid-al-Adha. A second bomb exploded between the Khashayar and Dar-al-thura neighborhoods, shattering the windows of nearby building.

Residents suspect that security forces were responsible for the bombs and were attempting to provoke further confrontation. Bomb attacks in June and October last year were also thought to be the work of the security forces or allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to many opposition figures, including reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin.

Ahwazi community leaders continue to call for calm, advocating peaceful demonstrations. Around 200 people have been arrested, including Sheikh Sari, the Imam of Dar-al-thura (Dayereh) mosque.

Ahwazis are using officially sanctioned religious festivals as a space for protest against the regime's policy of ethnic cleansing in Khuzestan and extreme poverty. In defiance of the regime's persecution, they have displayed symbols of Arab cultural identity, including wearing of the red keffiyeh and dishdasha, flying the Ahwaz national flag and performing Arab cultural plays in the streets.

Security chiefs have previously indicated that the wearing of the keffiyeh - a traditional Arab headdress - was forbidden. In November's Eid-al-Fitr demonstrations in Ahwaz, Governor General Heyat Mojadam ordered all those wearing keffiyeh be arrested. An Ahwazi Arab youth freed from prison following his arrest during the Eid-al-Fitr protests spoke of how the prosecutor, Mr Farhadi-Rad, argued that the wearing of the red keffiyeh was a "political statement" that indicated support for secessionism.

This month, the Majlis Centre for Research think tank, which is attached to the Iranian parliament, published a report that warned that Iran could face ethnic conflict and unrest unless the government addresses the needs of Iran's ethnic minorities.