Three killed, hundreds hurt celebrating Iran fire festival

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Tehran (AFP)

Three people were killed and nearly 1,900 injured celebrating Iran's traditional fire festival in the runup to this weekend's Persian New Year, emergency services said Wednesday.

One of the deaths came in Tehran, despite an overnight ban on gatherings imposed in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The Chaharshanbe Suri celebrations, during which participants jump over bonfires to purify themselves and ward off evil spirits, are part of Iran's pre-Islamic heritage and generally frowned on by the Shiite clerical establishment.

But they are popular with young people, many of whom who make their own fireworks for the event.

"Three people died during the festival, one of them in the capital," emergency services spokesman Mojtaba Khaledi told AFP.

Another 1,894 people were injured, most of them men, Khaledi said.

Six more people were killed in the runup to the event, he added, seemingly referring to incidents in which people were handling explosives to make their own fireworks.

Last year, several provinces imposed bans on fire festival celebrations as Iran battled a first wave of coronavirus infections.

This year Tehran police banned gatherings, but the ban was widely breached as gaggles of people assembled in various parts of the city to light bonfires and set off firecrackers, AFP correspondents reported.

"In the current situation where everyone is stressed and anxious because of the coronavirus, (celebrating) is really not at all bad," said a 38-year-old housewife sitting by one of the bonfires, who gave her name only as Charareh.

"Personally, I came here tonight to get rid of all the stress," she said.