The Iranian authorities are struggling to contain public protests in the city of Abadan, in the southwest province of Khuzestan, following the collapse of a building which left dozens of people dead.
The 10-story Metropol building collapsed on May 23, killing at least 32 people. The building was under construction but parts of it may already have been in use.
Since then there have been regular protests in the city, which lies 600km southwest of the capital Tehran, close to the border with Iraq. Large crowds have gathered to voice their anger, chanting protests against the regime.
The protests have spread to other parts of the country, including to the capital where fans of the Esteghlal football team were filmed chanted “Abadan” in the Aria Mehr stadium in Tehran.
In an effort to address public anger, the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khaemenei said on 26 May that those responsible must be brought to justice and their punishment should serve as a lesson for others. However, such comments have not placated the crowds.
Khamenei sent an envoy to address a crowd of several hundred people at the scene of the disaster on 29 May, but Ayatollah Mohsen Heidari Alekasir found he was drowned out by protesters booing and shouting. The crowds reportedly shouted “shameless” at the cleric and, later on, chanted “I will kill the one who killed my brother,” according to the AP news agency.
The incident ended with police breaking up the protest with tear gas and batons and firing shots.
Corruption to blame
Official media have suggested that faulty design and construction were the main causes of the collapse of the Metropol. Senior officials including Vice President Mohammad Mokhber and Khuzestan governor Sadeq Khalilian have blamed corruption and safety standards being ignored.
The scandal over the Metropol collapse comes amid a wave of protests across Iran in recent weeks due to rising prices for wheat and other basic commodities. It also brings back memories of another building disaster, the collapse of the Plasco building in Tehran in January 2017 after a fire broke out due to an electric shorting, killing 22 people. It later emerged that the authorities have failed to enforce building regulations.
What is also concerning is that officials acknowledge that many other buildings around the country fall short of the safety standards required.
Secretary General of the Association of Veterans of the Islamic Revolution Mojtaba Shakeri, a member of Tehran city council, told the Hamshahri website: “At the moment, we have a long list of buildings that do not have the necessary resilience… They are like Metropols that are likely to cause problems in the future.”