Defiant protesters hit streets in south Iraq for second day

Defiant protesters hit streets in south Iraq for second day
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This picture taken on November 28, 2020 shows a view of people gathering at a protest site in Habboubi Square in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah. (AFP)
Defiant protesters hit streets in south Iraq for second day
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This picture taken on November 28, 2020 shows a view of people gathering at a protest site in Habboubi Square in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah. (AFP)
Defiant protesters hit streets in south Iraq for second day
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This picture taken on November 28, 2020 shows a view of people cleaning up at a protest site in Habboubi Square in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah. (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2020

Defiant protesters hit streets in south Iraq for second day

Defiant protesters hit streets in south Iraq for second day
  • In the southern hotspot of Nasiriyah, anti-government activists accused the Sadrists of shooting at them
  • Sadr had called on his followers to hit the streets in a show of force on Friday, prompting thousands to turn out

NASIRIYAH: Anti-government protesters defied lockdowns and the threat of violence to demonstrate on Saturday in several Iraqi cities, with new clashes with security forces claiming the life of one protester.
Tensions were high in several Iraqi cities, a day after clashes between the dwindling members of the October 2019 anti-government protest movement and supporters of populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Sadr had called on his followers to hit the streets in a show of force on Friday, prompting tens of thousands to turn out in the capital Baghdad and other cities.
In the southern hotspot of Nasiriyah, anti-government activists accused the Sadrists of shooting at them and torching their tents in their main gathering place of Habboubi Square late Friday.
Clashes continued into the night, with medics reporting a total of seven dead by Saturday morning, five of them from bullet wounds, and at least 60 wounded.
Nasiriyah was a major hub for the protest movement that erupted last year against a government seen by demonstrators as corrupt, inept and beholden to neighboring Iran.
Violence also broke out on Saturday night in the southern city of Kut, where a police source told AFP on condition of anonymity that a protester was killed in skirmishes with security forces.
Authorities in Kut had imposed new restrictions on movement at dawn on Saturday and fired tear gas at anti-government demonstrators in an effort to clear out their camp.
The fresh violence has coincided with the one-year anniversary of one of the bloodiest incidents of the 2019 anti-government uprising.
On November 28 last year, more than three dozen people died in protest-related violence at Nasiriyah’s Zeitun (Olive) Bridge.
The deaths sparked outrage across Iraq and prompted the resignation of then-prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
His successor, Mustafa Al-Kadhemi, has sought to reach out to protesters and set June 2021 as a date for early elections — a major demand of the youth-dominated movement.
But in Nasiriyah on Saturday, demonstrators were just as enraged at him as they were at his predecessor a year ago.
Despite a curfew imposed in the city since Friday night, outraged protesters gathered at Habboubi Square starting early on Saturday, their numbers swelling throughout the day.
Under an early winter drizzle, the young men erected metal frames and rolled out orange and blue tarps to hang atop them, an AFP correspondent said.
A few carried a poster bearing pictures of both Kadhemi and Abdel Mahdi and the caption: “Two sides of the came coin.”
There were no police in sight around Habboubi Square, but a security source told AFP that units had been deployed to the city’s edges to seal off access to Nasiriyah to anyone except its residents.
Authorities had sacked the city’s police chief, launched an investigation into the events and imposed an overnight curfew in Nasiriyah.
But there is little hope that the official probe would lead to much closure, as families of those who died in last year’s rallies say they are still waiting for justice.
On Saturday evening, the massive crowd left Habboubi Square in a memorial march to honor those who lost their lives a year ago, carrying symbolic coffins as they made their way to Zeitun Bridge.
Asaad Al-Naseri, an ex-Sadrist based in Nasiriyah, called on Kadhemi to step down.
“Submit your resignation, have mercy on yourself and do Iraq a favor,” he wrote on Twitter.


Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
Updated 40 min 54 sec ago

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
  • With millions living in tents across country’s northwest, threat of COVID-19 is severe
  • $1.6m awarded by non-profit organization funded by UK, US, Canadian, Dutch governments

LONDON: Syria’s White Helmets, the civilian rescue group that recovers victims from rubble after airstrikes in the war-torn country, is now making personal protective equipment (PPE) to further its life-saving mission.
The civil defense service, which has worked to reduce the harm of indiscriminate shelling from the Assad regime, has received a $1.6 million award for the production of PPE from a non-profit organization funded by the UK, US, Canadian and Dutch governments.
Funds from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge group have led to the creation of a PPE-producing facility that has manufactured some 2 million masks.
It is also producing protective gowns and face shields — key equipment in the fight against COVID-19 — and handling the disposal of used PPE for northwest Syria’s population, who live in a precarious area that is predominantly out of the regime’s control. 
“The COVID-19 pandemic was the most difficult challenge the White Helmets faced in 2020,” said Munir Mustafa, its deputy general manager for humanitarian affairs.
“We witnessed the spread of the virus in north-western Syria among humanitarian workers and medical personnel, while the global pandemic made cross-borders logistics almost impossible.”
The White Helmets has enhanced community efforts to keep people safe from COVID-19 amid pressing security challenges.
“Our volunteers and fellow humanitarians, health care providers and other essential workers are safer now and can continue caring for Syrian civilians and responding to the pandemic,” Mustafa said.
The White Helmets, established in 2014, was originally formed for search-and-rescue efforts and to broaden the provision of first responders. It claims to have saved some 120,000 lives.
Its role has developed as challenges facing the Syrian people have grown. Violence in the country has demolished health care facilities, decimating communities and cutting off millions from crucial medical care. 
The bombing of civilian areas has forced many to flee to temporary refugee facilities that are often cramped and in poor condition.
With millions living in tents across the country’s northwest, the threat of COVID-19 is severe.
Around 500 cases of COVID-19 are being recorded per day in northwest Syria, but experts say the true number is much higher due to inadequate testing infrastructure.
The Humanitarian Grand Challenge said: “The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will not only protect those working in the overwhelmed health system, but reduce the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable.”