At least 650 schoolgirls have been poisoned to death in Iran since November. Many believe it was a deliberate attempt to force schools to close.
No girls have died, but dozens are suffering from symptoms such as difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
“It has become clear that some people want all schools, especially girls’ schools, to close,” the deputy health minister said on Sunday.
But he later said his remarks were misunderstood.
The attorney general last week announced he was launching a criminal investigation, but said the information he received only indicated “the possibility of criminal and premeditated conduct”.
Meanwhile, public dissatisfaction continues to grow.
The first poisoning occurred on November 30, when 18 girls from Nour Technical School in the religious city of Qom were taken to hospital.
Since then, more than a dozen girls’ schools have been targeted in surrounding provinces.
According to reports, at least 194 girls were poisoned last week at four schools in the city of Boljeld in the western province of Lorestan.
The poisoned girls reported smelling tangerines and rotten fish before becoming ill.
Earlier this month, at least 100 people protested outside the governor’s office in Kom.
“I have a duty to keep my daughter safe. I have two daughters,” one father exclaimed in a video shared widely on social media. “My two daughters… all I can do is keep them out of school.”
“This is war!” proclaimed one woman. “They are doing this at Kom girls’ high school to keep us at home. We want to keep them at home.”
Some parents say their children were sick for weeks after the poisoning.
Another video from the hospital shows a dazed teenage girl in her bed with her mother next to her.
“Dear Mothers, I am a mother and her daughter is in a hospital bed with her limbs crippled,” said the distraught mother. “I am a mother. Her daughter is crippled in a hospital bed. Please do not send her child to school.”
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