Protesting Sunnis call for Iraq PM to go

Updated 18 January 2013
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Protesting Sunnis call for Iraq PM to go

BAGHDAD: Thousands rallied in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq yesterday, calling for the ouster of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in the latest of ongoing protests that have deepened a political crisis.
Demonstrators in Baghdad and other cities also demanded the reform of anti-terror laws they say are targeted at the Sunni community, as well as the release of prisoners they claim are being wrongfully held.
Friday’s protests came after authorities released more than 400 prisoners, with a top minister publicly apologizing for detaining some without charge for prolonged periods, and following visits to two of the biggest protest sites by ministers.
In the capital, protesters rallied at Sunni mosques after Friday prayers in which preachers railed against the government, while demonstrators in Samarra and Mosul insisted they would continue to rally and called for Maliki’s ouster.
“Do not give space to those who... want to take away your rights, even though it is their duty to protect them,” said Adnan Al-Naimi, an imam at the Najib Basha mosque in north Baghdad where around 400 demonstrators congregated.
Protesters, many holding large Iraqi flags and banners, shouted: “We don’t want committees, we want our rights,” a reference to a committee set up by Maliki to address protesters’ demands, “Enough injustice!” and “Release the prisoners!“
Protests also took place in predominantly Sunni cities north and west of Baghdad.
In Samarra, thousands gathered in the city’s central Al-Haq Square for Friday prayers during which imam Mohammed Al-Hamdoon shouted: “They have made promises before, and they made promises yesterday, but let them hear — we will stay, protesting, until we get our rights.”
Demonstrators held up banners saying: “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Leave, Maliki, without negotiation.”
On Wednesday, Iraq said it had freed more than 400 prisoners since anti-government rallies erupted last month, and Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Al-Shahristani said it would press on with more releases daily.
The protests began on Dec. 23 in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq, with the longest-running demonstration blocking a key highway linking Baghdad to Jordan and Syria.


Rebels set to leave new area outside Damascus

Updated 21 min 10 sec ago
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Rebels set to leave new area outside Damascus

DAMASCUS: Rebels were expected to leave a new area outside the Syrian capital Saturday, state media said, after a new deal was reached between opposition fighters and the Russia-backed regime.
The agreement is the latest in a string of deals that have seen opposition fighters and civilians bussed out of former opposition strongholds near Damascus.
“An agreement has been reached in the area of Eastern Qalamun providing for terrorists to exit Al-Ruhayba, Jayrud and Al-Nasiriya starting from” Saturday, state news agency SANA said late Friday, using its usual term for rebels.
The town of Al-Ruhayba lies some 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Damascus.
Under the deal, fighters would hand over heavy and medium-size weapons as well as ammunition depositories, before heading to northern Syria, SANA said.
They would be transferred to the rebel-held northern town of Jarabulus in Aleppo province and to the neighboring province of Idlib, which is the last in Syria to remain largely outside regime control.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor relying on sources inside Syria, said buses had entered the East Qalamun area after the deal was reached between the rebels and the Russia-backed regime.
The regime is pushing to secure the capital after it announced its full reconquest last week of what was the last major rebel bastion outside Damascus.
Eastern Ghouta was emptied of rebels after a nearly two-month deadly assault on the enclave and several Russia-brokered deals that saw tens of thousands of people transported on buses to Syria’s north.
Earlier this week, a deal was inked that saw around 5,000 people including 1,500 fighters exit Dumayr, a town just to the south of Al-Ruhayba.
After retaking Eastern Ghouta, the regime has also turned its sights on the southern districts of the capital where Daesh has a presence.
Regime forces have bombarded the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern edge of Damascus in recent days in a bid to dislodge Daesh fighters.
Syria’s conflict has killed 350,000 people and displaced millions more since it broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.