Iraq’s Ab­dul Mahdi re­fuses to back down as death toll rises and com­mu­ni­ca­tions are cut

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - MINA ALDROUBI

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­dul Mahdi promised yes­ter­day to pros­e­cute those who op­er­ate out­side the law as dozens of anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers were shot dead across the coun­try de­spite or­ders not to use live rounds.

Demon­stra­tions broke out on Oc­to­ber 1 over ram­pant cor­rup­tion, lack of ba­sic ser­vices and high lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment. Pro­test­ers want an over­haul of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

In­stead, they were met with a violent crack­down that left al­most 300 peo­ple dead and thou­sands in­jured.

The death toll is ris­ing ev­ery day and the public blames Mr Ab­dul Mahdi for im­pos­ing the violent clam­p­down.

“The gov­ern­ment and ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties will con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate death and in­jury cases. We will not de­tain any pro­tester but in­stead will pros­e­cute them,” he said.

The prime min­is­ter, 77, came to power more than a year ago, pledg­ing to tackle cor­rup­tion and un­em­ploy­ment. But has since be­come the tar­get of the public’s anger.

“The protests have helped and will help to pres­sure po­lit­i­cal groups and the gov­ern­ment to re­form and ac­cept change. How­ever, con­tin­u­ing protests must al­low for a re­turn to nor­mal life, which will lead to le­git­i­mate de­mands be­ing met,” he said.

Par­lia­ment held a ses­sion yes­ter­day to dis­cuss the public’s pro­posed re­forms.

The coun­try’s new elec­toral re­forms are ex­pected to be an­nounced in the “com­ing days”, the premier said.

Mr Ab­dul Mahdi said “an im­por­tant gov­ern­ment reshuf­fle” will be an­nounced in re­sponse to the protests against the sec­tar­ian sys­tem that was im­posed in 2003. He also ad­mit­ted that the state had blocked the in­ter­net in the coun­try.

Pro­test­ers have ex­pressed con­cern that the gov­ern­ment is de­lib­er­ately cut­ting means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the rest of the world.

“The in­ter­net is a right for all,” Mr Ab­dul Mahdi said, but went on to ex­plain that au­thor­i­ties are forced to re­strict its con­nec­tion “when it is used to pro­mote vi­o­lence, ha­tred and con­spir­acy”.

Demon­stra­tions con­tin­ued yes­ter­day in Bagh­dad’s cen­tral Tahrir Square where pro­test­ers were met with tear gas when try­ing to cross sev­eral bridges. They were pushed back from the Si­nak Bridge to the nearby Khu­lani Square, where 35 peo­ple were wounded, ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal sources.

For sev­eral weeks se­cu­rity forces shot at pro­test­ers when they tried to re­move bar­ri­ers

that blocked a march to­wards the Green Zone, which houses gov­ern­ment of­fices for em­bassies.

On Fri­day, au­thor­i­ties found a bomb un­der the Si­nak Bridge, and car­ried out a con­trolled ex­plo­sion, state tele­vi­sion re­ported.

There were protests yes­ter­day in Basra, where demon­stra­tors be­gan gath­er­ing the pre­vi­ous night with many vow­ing to stay un­til the gov­ern­ment falls and for­eign med­dling in Iraqi af­fairs is stopped.

“Ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal sources more than 14 peo­ple were killed and dozens wounded in Basra,” Mo­hamad El Tai, a politician from Basra, told The Na­tional.

“We are call­ing on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the United Na­tions to pro­tect the Iraqi public in ac­cor­dance with Ar­ti­cle VII of the in­ter­na­tional char­ter and the Statute of the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice,” the of­fi­cial said.

Mr Al Tai said that he has not re­ceived a re­sponse from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The United Na­tions mis­sion in Iraq yes­ter­day urged peo­ple to re­port any hu­man rights abuses to their of­fice at “the ded­i­cated email ad­dress: hu­man­right­[email protected]”.

“I en­cour­age any­one with in­for­ma­tion, whether wit­ness or vic­tim ac­counts, photo or video footage – to send them to us at this ad­dress,” said the UN en­voy to Iraq, Jea­nine Hen­nis-Plass­chaert.

“We con­tinue to mon­i­tor and doc­u­ment hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, cases of ab­duc­tion, threats and in­tim­i­da­tion coun­try­wide as well as to raise them with rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties,” she said.

The UN body said it re­leased two re­ports that “out­lined se­ri­ous hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and abuses”.

It gave “spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions to the gov­ern­ment to pro­tect the rights of peace­ful demon­stra­tors seek­ing change”.

AP

Anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers set up bar­ri­ers dur­ing clashes with Iraqi se­cu­rity forces in Bagh­dad on Fri­day

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