Two Iraq protesters killed as anti-government unrest persists

Iraqi protesters rush to catch a tear gas canisters fired by security forces during clashes following an anti-government demonstration in Al-Khilani square in the capital Baghdad, on January 26, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Two Iraq protesters killed as anti-government unrest persists

  • The unidentified gunmen fired on protesters, killing 1 and wounding 4 others
  • The main protest camp in the holy city of Najaf was also burned down overnight by unidentified gunmen

BAGHDAD: Unidentified gunmen shot dead two protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya after security forces began a crackdown on months-long demonstrations against the country's largely Iran-backed ruling elite.
At least 75 protesters were wounded, mainly by live bullets, in clashes in Nassiriya overnight when security forces attempted to move them away from bridges in the city, police and health source said.
On Monday morning, clashes resumed in central Baghdad as police fired tear gas at demonstrators, Reuters reporters said.

HIGHLIGHT

The mass protests started in October over widespread government corruption and a lack of public services and jobs.

Hours later, determined protesters had rallied again and shut down two main bridges in the city, some 350 kilometers south of the capital Baghdad.

The main protest camp in the holy city of Najaf was also burned down overnight by unidentified gunmen, AFP’s correspondent there said on Monday.

Mass protests erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across Iraq’s Shiite-majority south in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and corruption.

They spiraled into calls for a total government overhaul and are now specifically demanding snap polls, an independent prime minister and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.

Protesters tried to ramp up pressure on the government starting a week ago by sealing streets with burning tires and metal barricades, but riot police responded with force.

They fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse clusters of young demonstrators, and 21 protesters have been killed and hundreds wounded in the last week.

That brought the toll from the last four months of rallies close to 480 dead, according to an AFP rally.

On Friday, security forces began moving in on the main protest camps across the country after influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said he would drop support for the youth-dominated reform campaign.

Sadr supporters swiftly began dismantling their own tents, prompting fears by the remaining activists that they had lost their political cover and would face a crackdown.

But thousands of students turned out Sunday across Iraqi cities to insist on their movement’s resilience and political independence.

Demonstrators have feared that their movement may be eclipsed by tensions between neighboring Iran and the US, which spiraled after the killing early this month of a senior Iranian commander in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

On Sunday evening, three Katyusha rockets slammed into the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, a security source said.

A senior Iraqi official and US diplomatic sources said one person was wounded, but no details were immediately available on whether it was a US national or an Iraqi member of staff at the mission.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 21 February 2020

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”