Six people shot dead in southern Iraqi city as violent protests rage for third day

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Tensions worsened after a near-total Internet blackout and closure of government offices in Baghdad. (AFP)
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Friends of civilian activists, who were killed the previous night, mourn during their funeral in Basra on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Anti-government protesters help a soldier from the Federal Police Rapid Response Forces to get out of the protest site area after other protesters beat him, in Baghdad. (AP)
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Demonstrators are seen as tires burn during a curfew, two days after the nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Updated 05 October 2019

Six people shot dead in southern Iraqi city as violent protests rage for third day

  • A total of 27 people, including two police officers, have been killed since demonstrations started on Tuesday
  • Six people were killed in Nassiriyah in one of the deadliest incidents yet

BAGHDAD: Six protesters were shot dead on Thursday in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriyah, the deadliest incident yet in three days of nationwide demonstrations.
Another 56 people were wounded in the protest, regional health chief Abdulhussein Al-Jaberi told AFP.
A total of 27 people, including two police officers, have been killed since demonstrations against unemployment and corruption erupted in Iraq on Tuesday.

Several thousand protesters faced off against security forces in central Baghdad on Thursday.
Defying a curfew in place since dawn, they arrived by truckfuls at the capital’s oil and industry ministry to protest against corruption, unemployment and poor services.




Anti-government protesters help a soldier from the Federal Police Rapid Response Forces to get out of the protest site area after other protesters beat him, in Baghdad. (AP)

The apparently leaderless movement has posed the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who has been in power for less than a year.
The embattled premier ordered a ban on all movement in Baghdad starting at 5 a.m. Thursday, but it was almost immediately defied by small groups of protesters.
The crowds swelled in the afternoon and pledged to march to the capital’s emblematic Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
Riot police and army troops linked arms around ministries and other government buildings, firing tear gas and live rounds into the air in a bid to push the crowds back.
“We will sacrifice our souls and our blood for you, Iraq!” demonstators chanted.
The protests began Tuesday in Baghdad but have since spread across the mainly Shiite south, including the provinces of Dhi Qar, Missan, Najaf, Basra, Wasit and Babylon.




 Demonstrators are seen as tires burn during a curfew, two days after the nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad. (Reuters)

Several cities have imposed curfews, but protesters flooded the streets regardless.
The Kurdish northern regions and Sunni western provinces, meanwhile, have remained relatively calm.

The grievances echo those of mass demonstrations in Iraq’s south a little over a year ago which were prompted by a severe water shortage that caused a widespread health crisis.
Since then, southern provinces have accused the central government of failing to address profound infrastructural gaps, chief among them youth unemployment.
Tensions have been exacerbated by the closure of government offices in Baghdad and calls by firebrand cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr for “a general strike.”
Sadr was behind the last round of major protests in Baghdad in 2016, when his supporters stormed the Green Zone — home to some ministries and embassies — but his involvement appears much more limited this time.
If his followers join the protests en masse, particularly as night falls, the rallies are expected to balloon even further.




Friends of civilian activists, who were killed the previous night, mourn during their funeral in Basra on Thursday. (Reuters)

More than 1,000 protesters and security personnel have been wounded.
More than half of those killed in the last three days have been in Nasiriyah, about 350 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Baghdad.
The southern city of Amarah has also seen significant bloodshed, with medics and security sources reporting four protesters shot dead on Thursday.

With Internet access virtually shut off, demonstrators on Thursday struggled to communicate with each other or post footage of the latest clashes.
Approximately 75 percent of Iraq is “offline” after major network operators “intentionally restricted” access, according to cybersecurity monitor NetBlocks.
The protests appear to be largely spontaneous and de-centralized, with virtually no party flags or slogans spotted.
Instead, they brandished Iraqi flags, posters demanding a “real country,” and even pictures of an Iraqi general who was recently decommissioned after reported pressure by pro-Iran factions.
“The ability to preserve the right to protest is a sign of political and democratic maturity,” the top United Nations official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said after meeting protesters.
“De-escalation is urgently needed.”
The rallies appear to have split Iraqi officials.
President Barham Saleh insisted peaceful protest was a “constitutional right” and parliament demanded an investigation into the deaths.
But in an unpopular move, Abdel Mahdi blamed the violence on “aggressors who... deliberately created casualties.”
On Thursday, the premier and the ministers of defense and interior met with the joint operations command but have not made any media appearances, despite swelling pressure.
Abdel Mahdi came to power in October 2018 as a consensus candidate, after last year’s popular demonstrations effectively ended his predecessor Haider Al-Abadi’s chances at a second term.
He pledged to reform inefficient institutions, eradicate corruption and fight unemployment — unfulfilled promises that appear to have pushed protesters over the edge this week.
In particular, anger has boiled over at the staggering level of youth unemployment, which stands at around 25 percent or double the overall rate, says the World Bank.
“We want jobs and better public services. We’ve been demanding them for years and the government has never responded,” said Abdallah Walid, a 27-year-old protester.


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.