Iraqi PM announces reshuffle, three days of mourning for protest dead

Mourners carry the flag-draped coffin of Hassan Radi, a protester killed during anti-government demonstrations, during his funeral in Najaf, Iraq, Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 10 October 2019

Iraqi PM announces reshuffle, three days of mourning for protest dead

  • At least 110 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in the capital and the south
  • Abdul Mahdi said that the government did not give orders to shoot at protesters

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Wednesday announced a cabinet reshuffle, declared three days of national mourning and said those who shot protesters would be punished as he sought to quell anti-government unrest that has roiled Iraq for days.
Authorities fear that violence, which has killed more than 110 people, mostly protesters angry at government corruption, could spiral, leading war-weary Iraq toward more civil strife.
Protests erupted in Baghdad last week and soon spread to southern cities. Abdul Mahdi’s government has sought to address demonstrators’ grievances.
However, a package of reforms announced by the government — including more job opportunities, subsidies and housing — is unlikely to satisfy Iraqis; nor is a cabinet reshuffle, likely to feature many of the same faces despised by protesters as an out-of-touch political elite.
“We will ask parliament to vote tomorrow on changes to ministries,” Abdul Mahdi said at a news conference, adding that the government would be referring the names of hundreds of corrupt officials to the judiciary for investigation.
Abdul Mahdi’s government will seek to weather the storm, however, backed by powerful Iran-aligned armed groups and political factions determined to preserve the status quo.
Authorities have used an Internet blackout, arrests of protesters and targeting of reporters to try to stem further unrest.
At least 110 people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded in the capital and the south, since the security forces started cracking down on demonstrators. Reuters journalists have witnessed protesters killed and wounded by shots fired by snipers from rooftops into the crowd.
Abdul Mahdi said that the government did not give orders to shoot.
“We gave clear orders not to use live fire but there were still victims of shooting,” Abdul Mahdi said, adding that it was wrong to damage the country.
Much of the unrest has been at night, but on Wednesday morning there were no reports of serious violence overnight. Authorities on Wednesday reopened the road leading to Baghdad’s Tayaran Square, scene of bloody protests in recent days.
However, the security forces pressed on with their crackdown, arresting protesters after nightfall on Tuesday in eastern and northwestern parts of Baghdad, police sources told Reuters.
Police carried recent photographs of protesters to identify and arrest them, the sources said.
Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights also said about 500 people had been released from the 800 detained last week.
Intermittent access to Internet returned on Wednesday morning, and protesters continued to upload video and photos from the demonstrations. The government shut down coverage almost immediately as protests began, according to an order by the prime minister seen by Reuters.
The offices of local and international media were attacked last week, and journalists have said they were warned not to cover the protests. With the Internet down, there was little coverage of the protests on television.
Ministers met provincial governors, to address grievances across the country, which include crumbling infrastructure, toxic water and high unemployment. But proposed reforms, some of which have been recycled from a package of proposed reforms after protests in 2015, are unlikely to ease public anger.
The unrest shattered nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq, since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the recent violence and urged Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to exercise maximum restraint and address protesters’ grievances, the US State Department said.


Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

Updated 17 January 2020

Lebanese block roads as protests enter fourth month

  • The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17
  • The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis

BEIRUT: Protesters blocked several main roads across Lebanon on Friday as unprecedented demonstrations against a political elite accused of corruption and incompetence entered their fourth month.
The protest movement rocking Lebanon since October 17 has resurged this week, over delays in forming a new cabinet to address the country’s growing economic crisis.
No progress seemed to have been made on a final lineup, which protesters demand be made up solely of independent experts and empty of traditional political parties.
In central Beirut, dozens of protesters Friday stood between parked cars blocking a key thoroughfare linking the city’s east and west.
“We blocked the road with cars because it’s something they can’t move,” Marwan Karam said.
The protester condemned what he regarded as efforts to form yet another government representing the usual carve-up of power between the traditional parties.
“We don’t want a government of masked political figures,” the 30-year-old told AFP. “Any such government will fall. We won’t give it any chance in the street.”
Forming a new cabinet is often a drawn-out process in Lebanon, where a complex system seeks to maintain balance between the various political parties and a multitude of religious confessions.
Nearby, Carlos Yammine, 32, said he did not want yet another “cake-sharing government.”
“What we have asked for from the start of the movement is a reduced, transitional, emergency government of independents,” he said, leaning against his car.


Elsewhere, demonstrators closed roads including in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, though some were later reopened, the National News Agency said.
The protest movement is in part fueled by the worst economic crisis that Lebanon has witnessed since its 1975-1990 civil war.
The protests this week saw angry demonstrators attack banks following the imposition of sharp curbs on cash withdrawals to stem a liquidity crisis.
On Thursday night, protesters vandalized three more banks in the capital’s Hamra district, smashing their glass fronts and graffitiing ATMs, an AFP photographer said.
Earlier, Lebanon’s security services released most of the 100-plus protesters detained over the previous 48 hours, lawyers said.
Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the arrests and the response of security forces to protests outside a police station on Wednesday night demanding detainees be released.
“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the rights watchdog.
Over the past few months, the Lebanese pound — long pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 — has fallen in value on the unofficial market to around 2,500.
The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate in Lebanon could rise from a third to a half if the political crisis is not remedied fast.