Qasr Port closed...4 pro­test­ers killed

EU of­fers help

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

BAGH­DAD, Nov 7, (Agen­cies): Iraqi se­cu­rity forces shot dead at least four anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers in cen­tral Bagh­dad on Thurs­day, po­lice and med­i­cal sources said, as weeks of deadly un­rest showed no signs of abat­ing.

Another 35 peo­ple were wounded in the clashes near Shuhada Bridge, they said, as mass demon­stra­tions con­tin­ued for a 13th straight day with thou­sands throng­ing cen­tral ar­eas of the cap­i­tal.

In south­ern Iraq, dozens of pro­test­ers burned tyres and blocked the en­trance to the port of Umm Qasr, pre­vent­ing lor­ries from trans­port­ing vi­tal food im­ports, just hours after op­er­a­tions had re­sumed, port of­fi­cials said.

The Iraqi gov­ern­ment has failed to find a way out of the big­gest and most com­pli­cated chal­lenge to its rule in years. The un­rest has shat­tered the rel­a­tive calm that fol­lowed the de­feat of the Sunni Mus­lim ex­trem­ist Is­lamic State in 2017.

A crack­down by au­thor­i­ties against mostly un­armed pro­test­ers has killed more than 250 peo­ple since un­rest broke out on Oct 1 over lack of jobs and an in­fra­struc­ture wrecked by decades of con­flict, sanc­tions and cor­rup­tion.

Pro­test­ers, mostly un­em­ployed youth, blame a po­lit­i­cal elite that has ruled Iraq since the top­pling of dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein in a 2003 US-led in­va­sion, and de­mand a com­plete over­haul of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Pinch

The coun­try is be­gin­ning to feel the fis­cal pinch of weeks of the un­rest, which started in Bagh­dad and quickly spread to south­ern cities.

The new stop­page of op­er­a­tions at Umm Qasr port in the south is likely to com­pound fi­nan­cial losses a day after the gov­ern­ment said that a week-long halt of op­er­a­tions there had cost more than $6 bil­lion.

Mean­while, on­go­ing in­ter­net out­ages im­posed by the gov­ern­ment to try to stem un­rest have hit the pri­vate sec­tor, a cen­tral bank source said.

The source said pri­vate banks in Iraq had recorded losses of some $16 mil­lion per day since the in­ter­net was first shut down at the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber.

Com­bined losses by the pri­vate banks and mo­bile phone com­pa­nies, money trans­fer ser­vices, tourism and air­line book­ing of­fices had av­er­aged more than $40 mil­lion per day, the source said – al­most $1.5 bil­lion for Iraq in just over a month.

Umm Qasr briefly re­sumed op­er­a­tions early on Thurs­day after most pro­test­ers cleared the area. But sev­eral dozen ac­tivists, rel­a­tives of a demon­stra­tor killed dur­ing weeks of vi­o­lence, then re­turned to block the main gate, port of­fi­cials said.

Umm Qasr re­ceives most of the grain, veg­etable oils and sugar that Iraq de­pends upon.

Oil and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said op­er­a­tions re­sumed on Thurs­day at the nearby Nas­siriya oil re­fin­ery, where pro­test­ers had stopped fuel tankers en­ter­ing or leav­ing the day be­fore.

Oil pro­duc­tion and ex­ports have not been sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected by the un­rest, oil min­istry of­fi­cials say.

But the halt­ing of fuel tankers that trans­port fuel from the Nas­siriya re­fin­ery to re­gional gas sta­tions caused fuel short­ages across the south­ern Iraqi prov­ince of Dhi Qar. The re­fin­ery had re­cently been pro­duc­ing around half its ca­pac­ity, oil of­fi­cials said.

In­ter­net re­turned briefly in most parts of Iraq on Thurs­day but went out again after 1:00 pm lo­cal time (1000 GMT). Au­thor­i­ties have heav­ily re­stricted in­ter­net ac­cess dur­ing the protests.

The gov­ern­ment says it is en­act­ing re­forms but has of­fered noth­ing that is likely to sat­isfy most pro­test­ers.

Stipends for the poor, more job op­por­tu­ni­ties for grad­u­ates and pledges to pun­ish a hand­ful of cor­rupt of­fi­cials have come too late for those de­mand­ing an over­haul of state in­sti­tu­tions, a flawed elec­toral process and sys­tem of gover­nance that has fu­elled en­demic cor­rup­tion, many Iraqis say.

The Euro­pean Union Thurs­day called for the rights of the Iraqi peo­ple to be re­spected and re­it­er­ated its sup­port to Iraq to de­liver on its re­form com­mit­ments.

“The EU re­it­er­ates its will­ing­ness to ac­com­pany the Gov­ern­ment of Iraq in de­liv­er­ing on its re­form com­mit­ments in line with the pledges made at the Kuwait In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence for the Re­con­struc­tion of Iraq in Fe­bru­ary 2018,” said EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fed­er­ica Mogherini in a Dec­la­ra­tion on be­half of the 28-mem­ber Union.

(AP)

Se­cu­rity forces try to dis­perse anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers dur­ing on­go­ing protests in Bagh­dad, Iraq on Nov 7.

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