Rally protesting Iran over Lake Urmia turns violent

Thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Tabriz and Urmia in Iran’s Azerbaijan region on Saturday to call on the Iranian government to save the dying Urmia Lake.

Thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Tabriz and Urmia in Iran’s Azerbaijan region on Saturday to call on the Iranian government to save the dying Urmia Lake, one of the world’s largest salt water lakes.

More than two dozen people have been arrested after environmental protests in northwestern Iran. The detentions come after protests in the city of Tabriz over what is claimed to be Tehran’s failure to take measures to save nearby Lake Urmia. A clash began between rally participants and security forces. Police used tear gas against the crowd, the official website of the Association for the Rights of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran, or ADAPP, reported. The news was censored in Iran-based media, but several video were posted on YouTube and bloggers flooded the cyber world with their posts according to Global Voices website, a community of more than 400 bloggers and translators around the world. Some bloggers called on more Iranians to support the Azeri activists and re-launch anti-regime demonstrations across the country.

Azerbaijanis in the United States have said the drying up of Lake Urmia is an international disaster and said that it is the third largest salt water lake in the world, the largest lake in the Middle East and one of the environmental wonders of the world, Azeri-Press Agency, or APA, reported. With a surface area of more than 5,000 square kilometers, the lake is home to an abundance of wildlife. It lies between the country’s provinces of East and West Azerbaijan.

Urmia has lost nearly a third of its water, Iranian State Department for Lakes Protection Director Ali Nazardust said earlier. It is said to be a result of drought and poor water management policies, but there is disagreement over who exactly bears responsibility – locals or the Iranian authorities. Building dams, a decrease in rainfall and other negative factors have led to the drying up of the lake, officials have said. At present, the salinity of the lake’s water is 330 percent, whereas “Ölüdeniz” (Dead Sea), a lagoon in Muğla province in southwest Turkey, has 275 percent. Earlier, this figure was 160 percent for Urmia.

The drying up of Lake Urmia will also affect Turkey and Azerbaijan, activists have said, adding that it would lead to a massive migration from the region. Last August Iran’s parliament rejected a bill to fund the irrigation of the lake.

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