Iranian farmers hold talks on water dispute after police clashes

DUBAI, March 2 (Reuters) - Farmers from a drought-stricken Iranian province who clashed with security forces in a protest over water supply have met officials in an attempt to settle the dispute, local media reported.

The farmers in central Isfahan province have for years protested against what they say is the unfair diversion of water from the Zayandeh Rud river to supply other areas, leaving their farms dry and threatening their livelihoods.

A pipeline transporting water to Yazd province was smashed in February, the opposition website Kaleme said. A demonstration by farmers near the pipeline on Wednesday led to clashes with security forces and three police buses were set on fire, Kaleme reported.

Demonstrations against authorities are rare in Iran, but there have been isolated protests by labour groups and consumers against delays in payment of wages and high food prices in the past year.

Fifty-five farmers met local officials to air their grievances, Isfahan provincial governor Alireza Zaker-Isfahani was quoted as saying on Saturday by Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.

“During the meeting the farmers expressed their viewpoints and the provincial executive agencies also shared their issues with the farmers, and both sides were looking to solve the problems,” Zaker-Isfahani said.

“The issues of the last few days caused problems both for the farmers and for the executive agencies, and we believe that we cannot respond to demands in a volatile environment.”

Isfahan’s Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Yousef Tabatabaei-Nejad, said the smashing of the pipeline to Yazd was against Islamic law, but expressed sympathy for the farmers’ plight.

“The livelihood of the people of east Isfahan is dependent on farming and provincial officials must help them in other ways in the current drought conditions,” he was quoted as saying by Mehr on Saturday. (Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Pravin Char)