Iraq death toll, casualties rise again as forces retake key Baghdad bridges

Iraqi security forces fired live ammunition at anti-government protesters in central Baghdad on Saturday, killing four and wounding more than 100 others, medical and security officials said. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2019

Iraq death toll, casualties rise again as forces retake key Baghdad bridges

  • The Kuwaiti consulate in Basra said it was withdrawing its staff from the city
  • PM Adel Abdul Mahdi said that political parties had "made mistakes" in their running of the country

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces killed at least five people on Saturday as they pushed protesters back towards their main camp in central Baghdad using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs, police and medics said.
The clashes wounded scores more people and put security forces back in control of all except one major bridge linking the Iraqi capital's eastern residential and business districts to government headquarters across the Tigris river.
The government promised reforms aimed at ending the crisis. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Saturday that political parties had "made mistakes" in their running of the country, recognised the legitimacy of protest to bring about political change and pledged electoral reform.
Mass protests began at Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Oct. 1 as demonstrators demanded jobs and services, and have swelled in the capital and southern cities with calls for an overhaul of the sectarian political system.
It is the biggest and most complex challenge in years to the political order set up after a US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraq, exhausted by decades of conflict and sanctions, had enjoyed relative calm after Daesh was defeated in 2017.
But the government has been unable to find an answer to the current round of unrest which pits the entire political class against mostly unemployed youth who have seen no improvement in their lives even in peacetime.
Despite government pledges of reform, security forces have used lethal force since the start and killed more than 280 people across the country.
On Saturday, forces drove protesters back from some of the bridges they had tried to occupy during the week and towards Tahrir Square, the main gathering point for demonstrators.
The protesters still hold a portion of the adjacent Jumhuriya Bridge where they have erected barricades in a stand-off with police.
But demonstrators fear the next target will be Tahrir Square and Jumhuriya Bridge. Fresh clashes erupted after night fall near Tahrir Square, with the sound of tear gas and stun grenades being fired echoing around central Baghdad, as it had nightly for the past week two weeks.
"Police have re-taken almost the entire area up ahead of us. They're advancing and my guess is tonight they'll try to take Tahrir," said one protester, who gave his name only as Abdullah.
On Saturday, some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails towards security forces at another bridge, and young men brought unlit homemade petrol bombs up a tower block nearby, preparing for further clashes.
At a nearby makeshift clinic, volunteer medic Manar Hamad said she had helped treat dozens of wounded on Saturday alone.
"Many get hit by shrapnel from sound bombs and others choke on tear gas or are hit directly by gas canisters. People have died that way," she said as live gunfire rang out and ambulance sirens wailed.
Police and medics said five people were shot to death and more than 140 wounded in Baghdad on Saturday. A Reuters cameraman saw one man carried away by medical volunteers after a tear gas canister struck him directly in the head.
As the violence flared, Abdul Mahdi issued a statement which appeared to take a more conciliatory tone and urged a return to normal life after weeks of unrest that have cost the country tens of millions of dollars, although crucial oil exports have not been affected.
"Political forces and parties are important institutions in any democratic system, and have made great sacrifices, but they've also made many mistakes," he said.
He said protests were a legitimate engine of political change but urged demonstrators not to interrupt "normal life".
Abdul Mahdi promised electoral reform and said authorities would ban possession of weapons by non-state armed groups who have been accused of killing protesters, and that there would be investigations into demonstrator deaths.
His remarks came a day after Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq's powerful senior Shiite Muslim cleric, urged politicians to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis and held security forces accountable for avoiding further violence.
In southern Iraq, operations resumed at Umm Qasr commodities port, a port official said, after it was closed for nearly 10 days while protesters blocked its entrances.
Umm Qasr receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
Authorities in downtown Basra, Iraq's oil-rich second city, erected a security perimeter, preventing protesters from gathering on Saturday, after two people were killed there on Friday in clashes between protesters and security forces.
The Kuwaiti consulate in Basra said it was withdrawing its staff from the city, amid the deteriorating security situation, a consular official said.


Egypt arrests alleged serial sexual predator

Updated 04 July 2020

Egypt arrests alleged serial sexual predator

  • Allegations have been widely circulating on social media detailing horrific sexual abuse and related blackmail suffered by women at the hands of the same man
  • Trending hashtags carrying the alleged abuser’s name widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, urging government action

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities on Saturday arrested a man who allegedly sexually abused dozens of girls and women, in a case that has sparked outrage online, a security source said.
Allegations have been widely circulating on social media since Wednesday detailing horrific sexual abuse and related blackmail suffered by women at the hands of the same man.
One allegation claimed that he attempted to abuse a 14-year-old girl.
“The person accused of harassing the girls has been arrested and will be facing the prosecution following the allegations carried on social media,” the security source said.
“Those affected should submit formal reports of the harm they endured,” the source added.
The source did not identify the suspect.
According to the social media reports, the first of which was published on an Instagram account, the abuse had been going on since at least 2018.
Trending hashtags carrying the alleged abuser’s name widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, urging government action.
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) lodged an official complaint with the public prosecutor to investigate the allegations on Saturday.
“The NCW has followed the social media account on Instagram, which was launched by girls and women complaining that a man raped some of them and sexually assaulted and harassed others,” it said on Facebook.
It also said that several victims, who reached out to the council, recounted that the man “blackmailed and threatened to defame them using photos and clips documenting his heinous crimes.”
The council urged the women to submit official complaints to the prosecutor.
Some online reports suggested the perpetrator was a university student.
The American University in Cairo acknowledged the suspect had studied there but said he left the university in 2018.
He “is not a current student at the American University in Cairo,” a statement said.
Sexual harassment is highly prevalent in Egypt.
United Nations surveys have found that most Egyptian women have been subject to harassment, ranging from catcalling to pinching and groping.
Egyptian authorities have criminalized sexual harassment since 2014, but many women complain that the problem remains rampant.