Sistani demands end to Basra violence as deadly protests rage

Residents demonstrate against the Iraqi government and the lack of basic services in Basra on Thursday, September 6. (AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018
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Sistani demands end to Basra violence as deadly protests rage

  • Iraq’s Parliament to discuss unrest; demonstrators storm Iranian Consulate in southern oil hub
  • Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and a number of key ministers are to attend the session

BASRA: Iraqi religious leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called for a political shake-up in Baghdad and a halt to violence against demonstrators on Friday, after days of deadly protests tore through the main city in the south and shut the country’s main seaport.

Ayatollah Ali Sistani placed blame for the unrest with political leaders and said a new government should be formed, “different from its predecessors.”

At least 10 protesters have died since Monday in Basra, a city of 2 million people where residents who complain that infrastructure has collapsed — leaving them with no power or safe drinking water in the heat of summer — have torched government buildings and clashed with security forces.

On Thursday, demonstrators escalated the unrest by shutting down Umm Qasr, the country’s main seaport, 60 km south of Basra, which handles the vast majority of imports into a country dependent on food bought abroad to feed its 37 million citizens.

It remained shut on Friday, local officials and security sources said. Iraq’s oil exports, which are carried out from offshore platforms, were unaffected.

Inside Basra, protesters stormed several provincial government buildings, torched the headquarters of the local government and blocked main roads in the city center.

Iraq’s politicians have so far failed to agree on a new government after an inconclusive election in May. The new Parliament finally met on Monday for the first time, but broke up after a day with no faction assembling enough votes to elect a speaker much less name the next prime minister.

In his Friday prayer sermon read out by an aide, Sistani demanded an end to the use of violence against “peaceful protests” and placed the blame squarely on politicians for corruption and unemployment.

“The failings of Iraqi political leaders in recent years have caused the anger of people in Basra,” Sistani said. 

“This reality cannot change if the next government is formed according to the same criteria adopted when forming previous governments. Pressure must be exerted for the new government to be different from its predecessors.”

Parliament’s interim leader summoned lawmakers to an emergency session on Saturday to discuss the unrest.

Also on Friday, local security sources said protesters stormed the Iranian Consulate in Basra. The consulate is in the upscale neighborhood of Al-Barda’iya, southeast of the city center.

Iraqi factions mainly came together during a 2014-2017 war against terrorists who seized large swathes of the country’s north. 

Its two most influential allies, Washington and Tehran, also backed the Baghdad government despite their deep hostility toward each other.

But since Daesh was largely defeated last year, other divisions have re-emerged. Shiites in the south, where most of Iraq’s oil wealth is produced, say Baghdad politicians have squandered state funds while leaving them desperate.

Moqtada Sadr,whose electoral bloc came first in May’s election, said on Twitter that Prime Minister Haidar Abadi must release more funds for Basra to improve conditions there.

Sadr, the former leader of an anti-American sectarian militia who has reinvented himself as an anti-corruption campaigner, has allied himself with Abadi.

Their alliance is competing to form a government against a rival bloc backed by Abadi’s predecessor Nuri Al-Maliki and the leader of an Iran-backed Shiite armed group, Hadi Al-Amiri.

Sadr called on Thursday for an emergency parliament session and for Abadi and other senior officials to attend. Abadi said he would do so.

Amid the political crisis and worsening protests in Basra, security forces have launched a search operation to determine the source of three mortar shells that landed inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Iraq’s newParliament faces the twin tasks of rebuilding the north of the country following the war against Daesh and rehabilitating services in the south, where severe water and electricity shortages have fueled protests.


Algeria graft prosecutor refers two ex PMs to supreme court

Updated 45 min 21 sec ago
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Algeria graft prosecutor refers two ex PMs to supreme court

  • Former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal who served under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were referred to the Supreme Court
  • Five other former ministers were also referred

ALGIERS: An Algerian prosecutor investigating graft allegations has referred two former prime ministers and five former ministers to the supreme court, Ennahar TV reported on Sunday citing a statement from the prosecution.
Mass protests have broken out in Algeria demanding the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people demonstrators regard as corrupt. The seven politicians will be investigated by the court over alleged corruption cases, Ennahar said, without providing details.
They include former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal who served under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who resigned on April 2 after coming under pressure from protesters and the army.
The list of the former ministers, who are under investigation, includes Amara Benyounes, Abdelakader Zaalane, Amar Ghoul, Karim Djoudi and Abdessalam Bouchouareb.
They were in charge of the sectors of trade, transport, public works, finance and industry respectively.
Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
The army is now the most powerful institution after the departure of Bouteflika, who had ruled the North African country since 1999.
Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has said major corruption cases would be pursued to try to appease the protests that started on Feb.22.
Bouteflika's youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge over "harming the army's authority and plotting against state authority."
At least five prominent businessmen have also been detained pending trial over involvement in corruption cases.
Protesters also want the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Beoui, who are considered as part of the ruling elite that has run the country since independence from France in 1962.