Wednesday 23 October 2019

New Baghdad protests leave one dead and six wounded

Heavily armed security forces and dozens of riot policemen blocked all streets leading to a major central square in the Iraqi capital.

Anti-government protesters set fires and block roads in Baghdad (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Anti-government protesters set fires and block roads in Baghdad (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Associated Press

Security forces have fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse groups of demonstrators in Baghdad, killing one and wounding six in renewed protests after violent confrontations a day earlier, officials said.

Heavily armed security forces and dozens of riot police blocked all streets leading to a major central square in the Iraqi capital in an attempt to prevent bigger protests, with armoured personnel carriers and SUVs standing guard at junctions.

At least two anti-government protesters were killed and more than 200 wounded on Tuesday after security forces used live ammunition and tear gas on protesters calling for an end to corruption, improved basic services and more jobs.

The confrontations were some of the worst in more than a year and signalled the war-weary country could be facing a new round of political instability.

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Protesters in Tahrir Square on Tuesday (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

A few dozen protesters tried to reach Tahrir Square to resume the protests on Wednesday but faced scores of riot police in full gear who formed a human barrier, and soldiers who blocked roads leading to the square from several directions, sometimes with barbed wire.

Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds in the air to disperse the protesters, chasing them away.

One person was killed and six wounded, according to security and medical officials.

A Health Ministry official said the person killed was a 56-year-old man and said forensics were identifying the cause of death.

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Iraqi security forces in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Early on Wednesday, Iraqi municipal workers cleaned up Tahrir Square, spraying the street with water while bulldozers removed debris. A bridge that leads from Tahrir Square to the fortified Green Zone — home to government offices and foreign embassies — was closed.

A car was distributing water to protesters and soldiers alike. “We are not against you, you are our brothers,” one activist told a soldier as he offered him a cold bottle of water.

In Zaafaraniya, south east of Baghdad, at least five people were treated for shortness of breath after police used tear gas to break up a small protest. Police also used tear gas in al-Shaab, north of Baghdad. Security officials said five people were arrested in al-Shaab and three in Zaafaraniya.

The protests are the most serious challenge against prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government since it was formed nearly a year ago.

They appear to be spontaneous and without political leadership, organised by people on social media against corruption and lack of basic services, such as electricity and water. They included dozens of university graduates who are unable to find jobs in the corruption-plagued but oil-rich country.

Politicians denounced the violence and at least one, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, called for an investigation.

The protests began peacefully on Tuesday but soon turned violent after security forces fought back demonstrators with water cannon, tear gas and live ammunition.

Protesters responded by throwing stones at security forces and setting tyres and bins on fire.

Similar protests and confrontations took place in other provinces, including in the cities of Basra and Nasiriyah in the south. In Nasiriyah, one protester was killed and around 20 people wounded, according to hospital officials.

PA Media

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