Fresh clashes erupt in Iraq despite appeal for calm by top cleric Sistani

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Demonstrators take part in the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 8, 2019. (Reuters)
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Members of Iraqi security forces are seen during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 8, 2019. (Reuters)
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Members of Iraqi security forces detain a demonstrator during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 8, 2019. (Reuters)
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Members of Iraqi security forces clash with demonstrators during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 8, 2019. (Reuters)
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Demonstrators clash with riot police during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 7, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2019

Fresh clashes erupt in Iraq despite appeal for calm by top cleric Sistani

  • For a week, protesters have cut access to Basra’s Umm Qasr port, which brings in most of Iraq’s food and medical imports
  • Rights groups have raised the alarm over the arrest and intimidation of activists and medics

BAGHDAD: Fresh clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government demonstrators broke out in Baghdad on Friday as protests entered their third week, despite a call for calm by the country’s top Shiite cleric.

Government leaders also appeared to have refused to backdown, closing rank instead around the country’s embattled premier.

Security forces fired tear gas and threw stun grenades into crowds of protesters wearing helmets and makeshift body armor on a main road in the middle of the Iraqi capital, sending demonstrators scattering, some wounded.

More than a dozen demonstrators had died in the capital Baghdad and the southern port city of Basra within 24 hours, medical sources said Friday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani held security forces accountable for any violent escalation and urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators’ demands.

“The biggest responsibility is on the security forces,” a representative of Sistani said in a sermon after Friday prayers in Karbala. “They must avoid using excessive force with peaceful protesters.”

Sistani warned against the exploitation of the unrest by “internal and external” forces which he said sought to destabilize Iraq for their own goals. He did not elaborate.

He said those in power must come up with a meaningful response to the demonstrations.

Protesters took little solace from the cleric’s words. “He says he’s supporting protests and that we should keep going but he hasn’t helped. The speech won’t make a difference either way,” said one woman protesting in Baghdad whose son was killed in recent clashes.

In the latest violence, 32 people were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters in confrontations on Baghdad’s famous Rasheed Street, its oldest avenue and cultural center known for its crumbling houses. Tear gas filled the air as protesters used slingshots to hurl stones at security forces.

In Basra, one elderly woman died after inhaling tear gas, while 180 suffered injuries on Friday. 

On Thursday night, masked men attacked protesters in the city, killing five people. The shooting also wounded about 120, said medical officials.

Rasool Mohammed, an activist from Baghdad’s Al-Sadr City, said four of his friends have vanished in the last few days. “They’re not among the dead, they’re not among the wounded, where are they? We don’t know who took them,” he said.

Rights groups have also raised the alarm over the arrest and intimidation of activists and medics, who have reported being followed by unidentified security forces.

Live fire is still being used and even tear gas canisters, fired directly at protesters’ bodies instead of being lobbed into crowds, have killed at least 16 people, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

The canisters have pierced protesters’ skulls and chests, with the United Nations saying at least 16 people had been killed that way as of November 5.

Amnesty International said it had found the military-grade canisters were Serbian- and Iranian-made.

In Missan province, two activists were killed on Wednesday by unknown assailants, security sources said.

This week’s violence has raised to around 130 the death toll since the protests resumed on October 24 after a lull.

A first wave of rallies from October 1 to 6 had killed 157 people, according to an official probe, most of them protesters shot dead in Baghdad.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threw his weight behind the protesters, saying that “we need to support these people wherever we can.”

Public anger has been directed particularly toward Iran, which supports the parties and paramilitary groups that dominate the Baghdad government and state institutions.
 

(With AFP)


Harvard students walk out of Israeli ambassador talk

Updated 15 November 2019

Harvard students walk out of Israeli ambassador talk

  • The Israeli consul general was giving a talk at Harvard Law School on the settlement project
  • Students held signs that read “Settlements are a war crime” as they silently left the room

DUBAI: Dozens of Harvard students walked out of a talk by Israeli ambassador, Dani Dayan, on the Legal Strategy of Israeli Settlements earlier this week.

They were holding signs which read “Settlements are a war crime” as they silently left the room.

Dayan called the protesters “a bunch of losers” in a tweet after the lecture.

“I’m disappointed that the Harvard Law School would let this kind of propaganda for a colonial project for accumulation by dispossession be framed as “legal,”” a student organizer was quoted by the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee (HCPSC).

“This is not only complicit but simply dishonest,” the student added.

Dayan, who is the Consul General of Israel in New York, advocates for the establishment and maintenance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Let us be clear, there is a consensus among the international community that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the student quoted by HCPSC said.