Violent clashes as protesters storm Iraq's Green Zone
Published 20/05/2016 | 17:01
Iraqi security forces have fired tear gas and gunshots in the air as hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed Baghdad's heavily secured Green Zone.
Several demonstrators, mostly supporters of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were injured as the crowd rushed towards the prime minister's office and the parliament building.
The violence prompted Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to impose a curfew in the country's capital, but it was lifted just a few hours later. By evening, the protesters were cleared from the Green Zone compound.
Earlier in the day, crowds of mostly young men gathered outside the Green Zone walls, with their numbers swelling into the thousands. This led security forces to push through the crowd on foot, firing volleys of tear gas in an effort to push people back from the gates.
The violence quickly escalated. The protesters who made it into the Green Zone rushed towards the prime minister's office and the parliament building. Some posted jubilant photographs from inside the premier's office on social media.
A reporter at the scene saw several protesters badly injured and one who was shot in the head.
Ambulances weaved through the crowd to ferry away those hurt, and h ospital and police officials said five protesters were seriously injured.
Al-Sadr released a statement condemning the government's use of force against unarmed protesters, saying he supports the "people's revolution".
The violence came more than two weeks after the highly fortified compound was first breached by al-Sadr's supporters in April.
Iraqi security forces at the time largely stood down, allowing protesters to scale walls and pull down concrete barriers. Mr Al-Abadi later replaced the head of the compound security.
The initial breach followed repeated delays to proposed government reform legislation. Since then, Iraq's government has been gridlocked and the parliament unable to convene.
Meanwhile, a string of deadly bombings has killed more than 200 over the past two weeks in and around Baghdad. The attacks, many claimed by the Islamic State group, follow territorial losses the Sunni militants have suffered at the hands of Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition aircraft.
On Thursday, Iraqi forces declared that the western town of Rutba was fully liberated after nearly two years of IS control.