Iraqi forces use water cannon, tear gas against protesters in Baghdad

Iraqi forces use water cannon, tear gas against protesters in Baghdad
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Demonstrators hurl stones at Iraqi security forces as others gather to mark the first anniversary of the anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq October 25, 2020. (Reuters)
Iraqi forces use water cannon, tear gas against protesters in Baghdad
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Iraqi demonstrators gather on Al-Jumhuriya Bridge in the capital Baghdad on October 25, 2020, to mark the first anniversary of a massive anti-government movement demanding the ouster of the entire ruling class accused of corruption. (AFP)
Iraqi forces use water cannon, tear gas against protesters in Baghdad
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Iraqi riot policemen block access to central Baghdad's Sinak bridge which links the capital's Green Zone with the rest of the city, as protesters gather in Tahrir Square on October 25, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 October 2020

Iraqi forces use water cannon, tear gas against protesters in Baghdad

Iraqi forces use water cannon, tear gas against protesters in Baghdad
  • The skirmishes came as Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad and some southern cities to hold protests
  • Security forces and unidentified gunmen carried out a fierce crackdown on anti-government disturbances that erupted in October 2019

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces fired water cannon and tear gas at anti-government protesters on Sunday to prevent them crossing barricades on a bridge leading towards government buildings.
The skirmishes came as hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad and some southern cities to hold anti-government protests, marking a year since mass anti-government unrest that killed more than 500 people.
"We will not stop protesting to demand our stolen rights. We are the victims of corrupted governments," said Najim Abdullah, a protester standing near the Jumhuriya bridge in the capital.
Security forces had deployed in force to control protests that began in the morning, and to stop demonstrators crossing Jumhuriya bridge, which leads to the fortified Green Zone that houses government buildings and foreign missions.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Sunday's protests were more subdued than demonstrations last year where thousands rallied in Baghdad and the south, facing off against security forces and militiamen in clashes that maimed and killed mostly young, jobless demonstrators.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who took office in May after his predecessor was driven out by last year's unrest, has painted himself as a leader who supports demonstrators.
In a televised address on Saturday he pledged to hold early and fair elections, a demand of many pro-democracy activists, and said security forces would this time around not harm any peaceful protesters.
"We want our freedom. We want our rights," one protester said after throwing stones at riot police above Jumhuriya bridge. He retreated when police responded with tear gas.
Security forces and unidentified gunmen carried out a fierce crackdown on anti-government disturbances that erupted in October 2019, killing hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters using live gunfire and tear gas.
The protesters had taken to the streets in mostly uncoordinated opposition to the political elite that has ruled since the 2003 US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
They accuse those in power, especially Iranian-backed parties and militia groups, of fuelling endemic corruption that kept large swathes of the oil-rich Arab country in ruins even during times of relative peace.
Since the 2017 defeat of Daesh militants, a moment many Iraqis hoped would signal a turning point for their country, millions have struggled to make a living and been deprived of reliable electricity, clean water and education.
Threats, killings and abductions of activists have continued since the protests lost steam earlier this year, out of a combination of protester fatigue and movement restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.


Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

Updated 05 December 2020

Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic
  • More than 567,000 voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote
  • Kuwait has a lively political life with a parliament elected for four-year terms

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait is holding parliamentary elections Saturday under the shadow of Covid-19, with facilities laid on for citizens infected with the disease to vote in special polling stations.
The oil-rich country has enforced some of the strictest regulations in the Gulf to combat the spread of the coronavirus, imposing a months-long nationwide lockdown earlier this year.
But while some curbs have eased, over-the-top election events that traditionally draw thousands for lavish banquets are out, masks remain mandatory and temperature checks are routine when venturing outdoors.
Infected people or those under mandatory quarantine are usually confined to home, with electronic wristbands monitoring their movements.
But in an effort to include all constituents, authorities have designated five schools — one in each electoral district — where they can vote, among the 102 polling stations across the country.
Election officials are expected to be in full personal protective equipment.
Kuwait has a lively political life with a parliament elected for four-year terms that enjoys wide legislative powers.
Political disputes are often fought out in the open.
Parties are neither banned nor recognized, but many groups — including Islamists — operate freely as de facto parties.
But with more than 143,917 coronavirus cases to date, including 886 deaths, the election campaign has been toned down this year.

A worker cleans desks at a polling station ahead of parliamentary elections in Abdullah Salem, Kuwait, on December 3, 2020. (REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee)

The polls, which open at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT), will be the first since the new emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, took office in September following the death of his half-brother, 91-year-old Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
But with the opposition weakened in recent years, no major political shifts are expected.
A few electoral banners dotted through the streets have been the only reminder of the nation’s political calendar.
Instead, this year’s campaign has mainly been fought on social networks and in the media.
More than 567,000 Kuwaiti voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote, including 29 women.
Ahmad Deyain, secretary general of the opposition group Kuwaiti Progressive Movement, said he expected a lower voter turnout than previous years after the dulled-down campaign.
The usual themes are a constant though, from promises to fight corruption and plans to address youth employment, to freedom of expression, housing, education and the thorny issue of the “bidoon,” Kuwait’s stateless minority.
From 2009 to 2013, and especially after the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, the country went through a period of political turmoil, with parliament and cabinets dissolved several times after disputes between lawmakers and the ruling family-led government.
“Kuwait is still undergoing a political crisis since 2011, and that page has not yet turned,” Deyain told AFP.
“There are still disputes over the electoral system and mismanagement of state funds.
Deyain said he expected some parliamentarians in the new National Assembly to be “more dynamic” in trying to resolve some issues.
Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab state to adopt a parliamentary system in 1962, and women in 2005 won the right to vote and to stand for election.