Mindanao Times

Car horns, music as thousands defy curfew in Iraqi capital


HONKING cars and blaring music filled the streets of the Iraqi capital early Tuesday, as thousands including students kept up anti-government protests despite a curfew declared by the army.

Swathes of Iraq have been engulfed by two waves of demonstrat­ions this month over unemployme­nt and corruption that have evolved into demands for regime change.

The rallies have gathered despite temporary curfews, threats of arrest and violence that has left nearly 240 people dead,

including five protesters killed in Baghdad on Monday.

That evening, the military said cars and foot traffic would be barred in the capital for six hours starting at midnight (2100 GMT), sparking concern security forces would storm protest camps in Baghdad.

But as the curfew came into effect, people were still streaming into Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square in cars and on foot.

Three-wheeled vehicles known as tuk-tuks ferried people to Tahrir, and a cacophony of car horns from accumulati­ng traffic could be heard from surroundin­g neighbourh­oods.

It was the fifth consecutiv­e night that protesters have occupied the square, clinging on despite heavy tear gas used to keep protesters from storming the Green Zone, which hosts government offices and foreign offices.

They had otherwise been allowed to set up tents in Tahrir and taken over multi-storey buildings there since Thursday in a marked departure from the response during the first week of this month.

Protests have also persisted across the country’s Shiite-majority south, with night-time rallies in the holy city of Karbala spiralling into skirmishes with security forces. - Syndicates on strike Protesters have been joined by a huge contingent of students, who joined despite stern warnings by the higher education minister and the prime minister’s office that they should “stay away.”

“No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!” boycotting students shouted on Monday in Diwaniyah, south of the capital.

Other student protests gathered in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Hillah and Basra -- and even the holy city of Najaf.

The national teachers’ syndicate announced a four-day strike and the lawyers’ union also told its members to boycott the courts for several days.

“Qusay al-Suhail (the higher education minister) said not to come down into the streets. But we say: no nation, no class!” one student protester said.

“All we want is for the government to immediatel­y submit its resignatio­n. Either it resigns, or it gets ousted.”

About 60 percent of Iraq’s 40-million-strong population is under the age of 25.

But youth unemployme­nt stands at 25 percent and one in five people live below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.

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