IRAQIS CLOSE ROADS IN BID TO BLOCK GOVERN­MENT

Elec­toral law pro­posed by pres­i­dent but elec­tions could still take months

The National - News - - NEWS - MINA ALDROUBI

Pro­test­ers in Iraq set up bar­ri­cades made of barbed wire and burn­ing tyres yes­ter­day as they kept up their pres­sure on the govern­ment to re­sign af­ter weeks of mass demon­stra­tions.

Demon­stra­tors held up ban­ners that read “Roads closed by or­der of the peo­ple”.

Trade Min­is­ter Mo­hammed Hashim Al Ani said the un­load­ing of rice and food ship­ments at Umm Qasr was de­layed af­ter all streets lead­ing to the port near the south­ern city of Basra were blocked.

Pro­test­ers blocked the roads on Satur­day af­ter se­cu­rity forces used live am­mu­ni­tion and tear gas. They also called for a strike that be­gan yes­ter­day.

Since the start of Oc­to­ber tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have gath­ered in Bagh­dad’s Tahrir Square and in ci­ties across south­ern Iraq to de­mand the res­ig­na­tion of the govern­ment and an end to the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem es­tab­lished af­ter the 2003 US-led in­va­sion.

The protests have grown de­spite an Iraqi of­fi­cial say­ing last week that Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­dul Mahdi was will­ing to re­sign once po­lit­i­cal lead­ers agreed on his re­place­ment.

Mr Ab­dul Mahdi met se­cu­rity of­fi­cials late on Satur­day and stressed the need to up­hold peace in the coun­try and en­sure the safety of pro­test­ers.

A new elec­toral law pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Barham Salih will be put to politi­cians this week.

Mr Salih’s of­fice said he met rep­re­sen­ta­tives of trade unions and civil or­gan­i­sa­tions and “heard their de­mands and views on the protest move­ment”.

How­ever, the process of hold­ing elec­tions and form­ing a new govern­ment could take sev­eral months.

Most pro­test­ers are young men and women be­low the age of 30 who grew up in the era that came af­ter long-time dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein was top­pled in the 2003 in­va­sion.

They are an­gry at the govern­ment’s fail­ure to end cor­rup­tion and pro­vide them with pub­lic ser­vices and job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The protests have been met with vi­o­lence from se­cu­rity forces and of­fi­cially recog­nised Iran-backed mili­tias known as the Haashed Al Shaabi, with more than 250 pro­test­ers killed and thou­sands in­jured since the ral­lies be­gan on Oc­to­ber 1.

The Iraqi Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion said yes­ter­day that Saba Al Mah­dawi, a doc­tor and ac­tivist, was kid­napped on Satur­day night af­ter treat­ing pro­test­ers in Bagh­dad.

It urged se­cu­rity forces to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter and other kid­nap­pings in re­cent weeks.

Dr Al Mah­dawi’s mother begged au­thor­i­ties to help bring her daugh­ter home safely in a video posted on so­cial me­dia. She said her daugh­ter was not af­fil­i­ated to any po­lit­i­cal group.

Women are al­ways the first tar­gets of ex­trem­ists dur­ing times of protests and con­flict, Rasha Al Aqeedi, edi­tor-in-charge of the Ir­faa Saw­tak news out­let, said on Twit­ter.

“In­tim­i­dat­ing oth­ers in hopes of killing the vibe is the goal,” Ms Al Aqeedi said.

She called on the govern­ment to do all it can to en­sure Dr Al Mah­dawi’s safe re­turn.

AP

Pro­test­ers are de­mand­ing the res­ig­na­tion of the govern­ment

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