Iran building collapse sparks anti-government protests

Rescue crews work at the site of a ten-storey building collapse in Abadan, Iran, on Monday.

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian protesters chanting anti-government slogans took to the streets of several cities including southwestern Abadan where a building collapse blamed on widespread corruption killed at least 24 people, news agencies and social media said.

Demonstrators vented their anger at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chanting “Death to Khamenei,” late on Thursday as they stormed the gate of Abadan, according to videos posted on social media on Friday. Reuters could not independently authenticate the footage.

Authorities investigating Monday’s collapse of the 10-story residential and commercial building have detained Abadan’s current and past mayors and nine others, including municipality employees and project supervisors.

Crowds also torched a shop in Abadan belonging to the owner of the collapsed building, according to social media posts and local news agencies, amid accusations that safety warnings were ignored.

Solidarity marches were held in several nearby areas in the southwestern oil-producing province of Khuzestan as well as Shahin Shahr in central Iran and the southern city of Shiraz, according to unverified postings on social media.

“Cannons, tanks, fireworks (are useless), mullahs must go,” chanted crowds in nearby Khorramshahr, according to a video posted on social media.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber said responsibility for the building disaster lay with “those who played with people’s lives to gain more money and who should not be pardoned but dealt with to teach a lesson to others,” the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.

“I believe there was widespread corruption between the contractor, the builder and supervisory bodies … and warnings were ignored,” Mokhber told state TV after visiting the site. He put the toll at 24 killed and 37 injured.

A spokesperson for the state emergency services had said on Tuesday that some 50 people may have been trapped under the rubble.

As during earlier protests over food price rises, residents reported disrupted Internet services, an apparent attempt to stop the use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Officials deny blocking Internet access.