Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq

Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq
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Smoke billows from burning tyres amid clashes between Iraqi anti-government protesters and supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, in the southern city of Nasiriyah, on November 27, 2020. (AFP)
Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq
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Anti-government protesters clash with supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr in Nassiriya, Iraq November 27, 2020. (Reuters)
Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq
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Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr,gather in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (AP)
Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq
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Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in the posters, gather in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. (AP)
Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq
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A volunteer wearing a protective suit sprinkles disinfectant as supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attend Friday prayers ahead of a rally in support of Al-Sadr at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq November 27, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq

Four dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq
  • The violence erupted as tens of thousands of Sadr supporters hit the streets of Baghdad and Nasiriyah
  • Their turnout overshadowed the rival youth-dominated movement that had erupted in October 2019

NASIRIYA: Four people were shot dead and dozens wounded in Iraq's south on Friday, medics said, in clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.
The violence erupted as tens of thousands of Sadr supporters hit the streets of Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah in a show of force as preparations ramp up for June parliamentary elections.
Their turnout overshadowed the rival youth-dominated movement that had erupted in October 2019 but had petered out in recent months due to geopolitical tensions and the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has called for early polls to take place in June 2021 - nearly a year ahead of schedule - to fulfil a key demand of last year's protest movement, which also included Sadrists.
On Friday, followers of the cleric attacked a tent camp of anti-government protesters in Nasiriyah's Habboubi Square, said Mohammad Al-Khayyat, a leader of the anti-government movement.
"Sadrists armed with guns and pistols came to try to clear our tents. We fear that more violence could take place," Khayyat told AFP.
Medical sources told AFP that the violence had left four people dead and wounded 51 others, nine of them by gunfire.
An AFP reporter saw the torched remnants of the anti-government camp in Habboubi, where chaos reigned.
"The security forces clearly failed to prevent armed gangs from storming Habboubi Square," wrote Asaad Al-Naseri, an ex-Sadrist based Nasiriyah.
In the evening, clashes continued with an AFP correspondent reporting that many of the demonstrators' tents had been set on fire.
Nasiriyah was a major hub for the anti-government protest movement that erupted in October 2019.
It was also the site of one of the bloodiest incidents of the uprising nearly one year ago on November 28, when more than three dozen died in protest-related violence.
The deaths sparked outrage across Iraq, including by the country's top Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and prompted the resignation of then prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Kadhimi's plan to hold early elections is seen as an effort to reach out to protesters.
The polls will take place under a new electoral law agreed by parliament that will see district sizes reduced and votes for individual candidates replacing list-based ballots.
Most observers expect a delay of at least a few months while political parties prepare their campaigns, but experts say the new system is likely to benefit Sadr and his candidates.
Sadrists had already won big in the May 2018 vote with 54 of parliament's 329 seats, granting him the biggest single bloc.
In a tweet this week, Sadr said he expected major wins in the new elections and would push for the next prime minister to be a member of his movement for the first time.
He also called for a protest on Friday, prompting tens of thousands to turn out in Baghdad, and in other Iraqi cities including Al-Hillah and Basra in the south.
Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, they gathered shoulder-to-shoulder for noon Muslim prayers in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, spilling out into the surrounding streets.
In a sermon read out by the cleric's representative, the firebrand leader called for a "Sadrist majority" in parliament.
Sadr is very rarely seen in public and did not attend the rally.
"This is a protest against the corrupt, the oppressors, who have driven Iraq to brink of bankruptcy, to the brink of the abyss," said Talal Al-Saadi, a cleric who was among those protesting on Friday.
Iraq is facing its most dire fiscal crisis in decades following a collapse in oil prices earlier this year and the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the government unable to pay public sector salaries on time.
On Friday, Sadr supporters carried Iraq's national tricolour and posters of the cleric, including some that evoked his past as a militia leader and showed him in camouflage.
Volunteers dressed in light blue - the movement's colour - sprayed the crowd with disinfectant.
"Obeying Sadr's call, we're making a stand that the whole world will see - we don't want criminals or corrupt people in Iraq," said protester Ahmad Rahim, with an Iraqi flag draped around his shoulders.
"We call the shots," he added.


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
Updated 6 min 20 sec ago

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia
  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.