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Blacklash over Iranian Vice-President's Karoun visit; MPs threaten resignation

Vice-President in staged meeting with fake protesters
Ahwaz environmentalists and protesters hit back at Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar's fleeting visit to the Karoun River today with Khuzestan governor Abdolhoseyn Moqtadai, claiming they were not invited and that the "protesters" on display for the cameras were paid government employees.

The government is keen to bring to an end a series of growing peaceful protests, which have drawn international attention to an environmental crisis that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) claims is on a par with the deforestation of the Amazon and the desiccation of the Aral Sea.

During her 10 minute visit to the river, she brushed aside questions from one of the few genuine protesters present who asked her whether she would drink the local tap water, which is dangerous for human consumption. Another told her that the place she was taken for photographs was the widest part of the river and that elsewhere the scene was far less beautiful. While Moqtadai laughed off mild criticism, Ebtekar remained indifferent and silent.

Meanwhile, the province's 18 members of parliament have threatened their collective resignation over the pollution and drying of the region's waterways and marshes as the government steps up its dam construction and river diversion programmes, according to Iranian media sources.

Ahwaz member of parliament Sayyed Sharif Hosseini warned that the environmental problems affecting the Karoun had to be dealt with through legal means or some may seek illegal means to pursue the issue. Speaking in parliament, Hosseini assured the people of Ahwaz that so long as the MPs were their representatives they would not allow Karoun's water to stop. He added that the fight for the Karoun must be pursued through cultural means and through proper channels and not allow it to become a political issue.

The province's members of parliament have in the past vowed to resign over the controversial dam projects that are destroying the Karoun, but have never carried out their threat despite the escalating crisis.

Protesters have submitted to Ebtekar a list environmental problems in the region. The issues include the effects of low river water flow on the Hor Al-Azim (Huwaizeh) and Shadegan (Falahiyeh) marshes, which are being drained in a project reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's marsh destruction in Iraq.

  1. Karoun's diversion to central provinces
  2. Dust and resulting health problems
  3. The diversion of Dez river to Qum city
  4. The crises of Goutwand dam
  5. Catastrophic consequences of water dam building
  6. The catastrophic effects of drought on the Hor Al-Azim (Howayzeh) marshes in addition to destructive impacts of local oil companies
  7. The effects of drought and pollution from oil, metal and chemical production on Shadegan (Falahyeh) marsh
  8. The pollution of rivers by sugar cane projects and the effects of agricultural waste waters and stubble burning on drinking water and human health.
  9. The catastrophic crisis affecting Zoherh River in Hendijan (Hendian) due to the low volume of water
  10. The pollution of the Jarahi and Maroun rivers by oil companies
  11. The crisis of the marine environment at Khour Mousa (Bandar-e-Emam)
  12. Pollution caused by petrochemical companies in Mahshahr and Emam ports
  13. Deforestation in Izeh, Baghmalek, Behbahan and Dezful
  14. The destruction of the Izeh marsh
  15. The destruction of the Bamdej marsh
  16. The effect of industrial and residential waste water on the Karoun
  17. The deaths of many native yellow deer in Shush and Dezful
  18. Air pollution caused by smoke from the oil industry in cities such as Omidiyeh, Ahwaz, Masjed Soulayman, Haftgel and Dasht-e-azadegan (Khafajyeh)
  19. Pollution caused by the unmonitored burial of huge quantities of rubbish, which is leading to the spread of disease
  20. Pollution caused by the steel and reg Foulad Khuzestan steel plant and the Abadan refinery
  21. The death of hundreds of palm trees in Shadegan (Falahiyeh), Khorramshahr (Mohammerah) and Abadan
  22. The drying of the Maleh River, a Karoun tributary, and oil pollution in the river