- "If there is a problem, I ask (the people of Khuzestan) to solve it legally," Rouhani said.
TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday citizens have "the right" to demonstrate, after days of protests against water shortages in southwestern Khuzestan province in which three people have been killed.
Wealthy Khuzestan is Iran's main oil-producing region, but has been struggling with an intense drought since March.
The people of Khuzestan "have the right to speak, express themselves, protest and even take to the streets, within the framework of the regulations," Rouhani said, in a speech broadcast on state television.
At least three people have been killed, including a police officer and a protestor, according to Iranian media and officials, who have accused "opportunists" and "rioters" of shooting at protesters and security forces.
"It is possible that a malicious person could take advantage of the situation, come in the middle of it all and use a gun, shoot and kill one of our dear (citizens)," Rouhani added without explaining further.
Farsi-language media based abroad have broadcast videos they said were of protests in several cities and towns, showing hundreds of marching people, chanting slogans against authorities, while surrounded by anti-riot police.
AFP could not verify the authenticity of the videos.
"If there is a problem, I ask (the people of Khuzestan) to solve it legally," Rouhani said.
Khuzestan is home to a large Arab minority, and its people regularly complain of being marginalised by the authorities.
In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that also shook other areas of Iran.
Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of the Supreme National Security Council, said on Thursday that "the security forces had been ordered to immediately release those detained during the recent incidents in Khuzestan, who had not have committed a criminal act".
Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms blowing in from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Iraq have dried up Khuzestan's once fertile plains. Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts.