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Activists Allege Killings by Iran Police in Protest Crackdown

In this photo sent to VOA Persian by an audience member, residents of the southern Iranian city of Kazerun, many of them women dressed in black chadors, join a protest on May 17, 2018, after security forces violently cracked down on demonstrators the night before, killing at least one person. The protesters oppose a government plan to divide their city administratively.

Iranian opposition and human rights activists said Thursday that security forces had shot and killed several people the night before in a southern city where marchers were protesting a plan to divide their municipality.

The opposition activists said the killings in Kazerun happened after hundreds of people had staged a peaceful protest in the city's central square earlier in the day.

Iran's state-run ISNA news agency quoted the governor of Fars province, where Kazerun is located, as saying one person had been killed in a violent confrontation between the security forces and protesters. Iranian state media said some of the protesters had set fire to a police station, prompting officers to shoot.

WATCH: Audience member's video, sent to VOA Persian, shows a man wounded in a confrontation with security forces late Wednesday in Kazerun.

In the ISNA report, provincial Governor Esmail Tabadar said the clashes continued sporadically in Kazerun on Thursday, but the situation was "under control."

WATCH: Audience member's video, sent to VOA Persian, shows confrontations with security forces continuing in Kazerun on Thursday.

Video clips shared on social media in the aftermath of the unrest showed burned vehicles and other debris on the streets.

WATCH: Audience member's video, sent to VOA Persian, shows Thursday's aftermath of violence in Kazerun.

Residents of Kazerun joined Wednesday's march to protest renewed talk of a government plan to turn two of its outlying areas into a new city that they fear would rob them of government funds. The Iranian lawmaker representing Kazerun, who lives in one of the outlying areas, has pushed Iran's Interior Ministry to create the new city. But there has been no word on when the Iranian Cabinet will decide on the matter.

U.S.-based Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi said Tehran has "spilled Iranian blood again" through its actions in Kazerun. In a Thursday tweet, Pahlavi said his heart "beats for the brave, noble people of this city," whom he credited with "steadfast resolve" and "remarkable courage" in pursuit of freedom and democracy in Iran.

Protests began in December

Iranian security forces have killed a number of Iranians in violent crackdowns on some of the anti-government protests that have swept the country since last December. Iranian authorities said at least 20 people had been killed in its crackdown during the initial week of nationwide protests, which stretched into early January. Iran blamed that violence on rioters incited by its foreign enemies, without providing evidence.

Retired Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Michael Segall, an Iran analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told VOA Persian that his sources said some of Wednesday's protesters were armed and some of the Iranian security forces who confronted them wore civilian clothes.

"The appearance of plainclothes security personnel is significant," Segall said. "Usually, Iranian leaders use them when a situation is out of control or when they want to suppress an event quickly, as they did with the December-January protests."

Kazerun residents told VOA Persian that the city's government-appointed Friday prayer leader, Mohammad Khorsand, had sparked the protest by speaking in favor of the city division plan at last Friday's prayers. Residents demonstrated against the plan last month but called off the protests after authorities promised not to proceed with it.

Lawmaker's proposal

Kazerun lawmaker Hossein Rezazadeh has proposed turning parts of the city's northern outlying districts of Nowdan and Qaemiyeh into a new city named Kuh-e-Chinar. Many residents oppose the plan, fearing the city would draw government funds away from Kazerun and create a new layer of corrupt bureaucracy in the area.

In Thursday's edition of VOA Persian's Straight Talk call-in show, most people who called from inside Iran said they believed the Iranian government was underreporting the death toll from the violent crackdown in Kazerun. Some callers also reported cuts to internet and phone connections in the city.

A caller who gave his name as Mohammed from the neighboring city of Shiraz said Iranian authorities could have peacefully resolved the grievances of Kazerun residents before the protest escalated.

"The government wants to use force to fix things instead of discussing matters with the people. There was no reason for blood to be shed," he said.

Another caller who identified himself as Ardeshir said the protesters were not just upset about the proposed city division.

"Some of their dissatisfaction is related to other things, like the poor state of the economy," the caller said.

Behrooz Samadbeygi and Afshar Sigarchi of VOA's Persian Service contributed to this report.