Third person dies as protests continue in Baghdad

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Eight more protesters were injured, as police calls for the army to use restraint. (File/AFP)
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A police commander said that forces should be patient and protect the demonstrators. (File/AFP)
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Protesters clash with Iraqi riot police vehicles during a demonstration against state corruption and poor service in Baghdad. (AFP)
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Iraq security forces arrest a protester during a protest in Tahrir Square, in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (AP)
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Protesters stand on a concrete arch connected to a burning building amidst clashes with Iraqi riot police during a demonstration against state corruption and poor services. (AFP)
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Demonstrators use their mobiles during a protest against government corruption amid dissatisfaction at lack of jobs and services in Baghdad. (Reuters)
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Protesters gather next to a burning building amidst clashes with Iraqi riot police during a demonstration against state corruption and poor services. (AFP)
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Riot police attempts to disperse crowds during a protest against government corruption amid dissatisfaction at lack of jobs and services at Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq October 1, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 04 October 2019

Third person dies as protests continue in Baghdad

  • Tuesday’s rally began peacefully with more than 1,000 people marching into central Tahrir Square
  • Police started throwing stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the protesters

BAGHDAD: A third protester has died in the second day of protests in Iraq, from wounds, medics have confirmed.

The 55-year-old man was wounded in Tuesday's demonstration in Baghdad's iconic Tahrir Square, the sources said.

Security forces used live fire and tear gas to disperse demonstrators in renewed protests in Baghdad on Wednesday, a day after at least two Iraqis were killed and 200 wounded in clashes over unemployment, corruption and poor public services.

At least eight protesters were wounded in the Zafaraniya district of southeast Baghdad when police and the army opened fire and launched tear gas canisters to disperse dozens of protesters, police sources said.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said peaceful protesting is a constitutional right, Iraqi state news agency reported on Tuesday.




Security forces have been told civilians have the right to protest. (File/AFP)

Meanwhile, the Commander of Iraqi Federal Police Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat said police should be patient and protect the demonstrators.

The main demonstration in central Baghdad broke out on Tuesday, with other protests taking place in seven Shiite-dominated southern provinces. Police in the capital fired in the air as about 3,000 protesters tried to cross a bridge leading into the fortified Green Zone, chanting “People want to overthrow the regime.”

Security forces blocked roads and used stun grenades and water cannon to push back crowd, but protesters refused to leave. They set fire to the building used by an Iraqi army detachment, clashed with security forces and threw missiles at riot police and troops.

 

 

“Our youth is lost. There is no work, no services, no clear future, so why we should keep silent?” one protester, Mohammed, told Arab News.

“All the governments and political forces that came after 2003 stole our future, and now they are shooting at us just because we want to protest.”

There were also protests in the southern hub oil of Basra, where 15 people were arrested; friction in Dhi Qar province, where demonstrators tried to storm the provincial council; and unrest in Diwaniya, Najaf, Karbala, Babil and Maysan.

Firing by security forces near Tahrir Square in Baghdad forced the protesters into nearby alleyways. Mobile footage obtained by Arab News showed the demonstrators running along sideroads in central Baghdad, telling each other to take care as gunshots rang out in the background.

“The licensed place to demonstrate is Tahrir Square. Any demonstrator who moves just one meter out of it is violating the law, and will be forced back,” a senior police officer involved in securing the area told Arab News.

“The demonstrators burned a security checkpoint and attacked the security forces, and it is natural that our forces try to regain control of the situation.” 

Calls for protests in Baghdad have intensified since last week, when Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi fired the commander of the military counterterrorism squad, Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab Al-Saadi. Many Iraqis believe the decision was aimed at removing the leaders of the Iraqi army and official military institutions that led the fight against Daesh.




Security forces used water cannons and tear gas to disperse more than 1,000 protesters in central Baghdad on Tuesday. (File/AFP)

Observers and analysts said the dissatisfaction of most Iraqis was clear, but the publication of provocative videos suggesting a military coup had created tension between police and demonstrators. When security forces opened fire it was “the fastest reaction against demonstrators since 2003,” analyst Abdulwahid Tuama told Arab News. “This could have been avoided, but Abdul Mahdi appears to be provocative.”

An adviser to Abdul Mahdi claimed the US was behind the protests, to punish the prime minister for seeking economic ties with China. “Who promoted the demonstrations was the electronic army of the US embassy, through hundreds of web pages and mock accounts,” the adviser said. “Today’s demonstrations were a punishment for Abdul Mahdi, who dared to disobey America by going to China and opening the doors of investment to them.”

The adviser said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “warned Abdul Mahdi of the serious consequences he would face if he went to China. Revolutionizing the street to bring down the government is an attempt to punish him.”

Many Sunni politicians declared support for the protesters while most Shiite leaders remained silent. Howerful, the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr criticized “the excessive use of force,” and demanded an investigation.

The identity of the protest organizers is not clear, but video footage posted early on Tuesday showed Ahmed Al-Helou, an activist in Najaf, reciting what Iraqis call “Number One” — a reference to the first statement by insurgents after a military coup.

Helou, who described himself as a rebel, said in the video: “The revolution has begun ... enough demonstrations. They will not respond to your demands. Change will not happen at the hands of parties that have overthrown, killed, abandoned and stolen you.

“Previously, we did not have the alternative, but now we have … a government headed by Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab Al-Saadi was formed ... this is our last chance.”

Helou’s first video was followed by another one less than an hour later, in which he appeared next to the Iraqi flag with the national anthem playing in the background. He announces the composition of what he called the “National Salvation Government,” which included former ministers, judges, military leaders, academics and ambassadors, most of whom had lost their positions in the past two decades.

Shortly afterwards, most of those named on the list announced that they knew nothing about it and did not know who was responsible. Nevertheless, posters of Gen. Al-Saadi were distributed among protesters and pasted on minibuses in central Baghdad near Tahrir Square.

(With AFP and Reuters)


Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

Updated 4 min 50 sec ago

Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

  • Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent

ISTANBUL: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will be legally bound to appoint a formal representative in Turkey under a new draft law that will be brought to the country’s parliament soon.

The bill is initially designed for the government’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus, but it covers clauses about social media restrictions.

According to the experts, if adopted, this bill will pave the way for exercising government pressure on the platforms.

Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent. The social media platforms are also obliged to share users’ information with the prosecutors’ office when required.

They will also have to execute decisions coming from the criminal courts for “content removal” and/or “access denial” without any exception. Even individuals may apply to state authorities to ask the platforms to remove content. The platforms could be fined up to 1 million Turkish lira if they do not comply with the request within 24 hours.

It is still unclear whether news outlets with social media sites will also have to abide by these requirements.

Last August, the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) was officially granted the authority to regulate and monitor online platforms, including series on digital TV platforms such as Netflix, news broadcasts on YouTube and social media platforms delivering news on a regular basis. Those broadcasting online were obliged to get a license first from RTUK. According to that legislation, overseas companies who broadcast in Turkey on the internet are also required to establish a company and obtain a license.

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, a scholar at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and editor in chief of NewsLabTurkey.org, said it had long been the wish of the Turkish government to keep Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter — as some of the most-used social networks in the country — under control.

“This new draft that will be brought to the parliament is a concrete step toward making Turkey’s digital sphere more controllable than ever for the government,” he told Arab News.

According to Uzunoglu, it is natural that Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are questioned by governments worldwide due to their financial activities and uncontrolled flow of money worldwide.

“Some responsible governments and politicians always question this shady feature of social networks. However, unfortunately, Turkey is not one of these countries or Turkish politicians aren’t the kind of politicians that think (about) the privacy of individuals. All they want is clearly a person who will be like an ambassador for the brand in their country whom they can get in touch with on a regular basis,” he said.

The bill also requires that all data about Turkish social media users be stored in Turkey.

Uzunoglu thinks that the daily routine of such a representative will not be very different from the life of the US ambassador in the time of crisis between US and Turkey.

“The only difference is, the government will try to keep this person and social network for everything in the platform. So that will be a disaster for both the operation of the social platform and the democracy of the country. And unlike an ambassador, the national law system in Turkey will be imposed on them. So, Facebook or Twitter won’t be different from any other web site active in Turkey,” he said.

Turkey has also increased control over social media during the coronavirus outbreak. More than 400 people have been arrested for “provocative” posts on their social media accounts about the virus.

Turkey has blocked access to social media platforms several times in the recent past, especially after the military deployments to Syria.

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter host the remaining free-speech platforms and provide an alternative information flow, Uzunoglu thinks that being forced to give away data about their users will be an attack on individual privacy.

“This definitely shows that the government is living in a completely different reality, or they imagine to live in a completely different world,” he said.

Uzunoglu also drew attention to the problematic timing of the move, especially under the extraordinary conditions caused by COVID-19.

“Just think about the Internet freedom related activism of the early 2010s when people went into the streets for the first time to protect Internet freedom. Comparing it to the self-isolation period that we are experiencing right now, it would be naive to think that it is just coincidental,” he said.