Iraqi of­fi­cials ban use of live rounds at protests

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - MINA ALDROUBI Con­tin­ued on page 3

Iraq’s top three of­fi­cials banned the use of live am­mu­ni­tion and vi­o­lence against pro­test­ers yes­ter­day after a se­cu­rity crack­down on anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions that killed more than 300 peo­ple.

Protests have gripped the coun­try since the start of Oc­to­ber, with demon­stra­tors call­ing for an over­haul of the sec­tar­ian sys­tem es­tab­lished after the US-led in­va­sion in 2003.

Bagh­dad will start the “leg­is­la­tion of a new elec­toral law” ac­cord­ing to a joint state­ment from Prime Min­is­ter Adel Abdul Mahdi, Pres­i­dent Barham Salih and Par­lia­ment Speaker Mo­hamad Al Hal­bousi.

As Iraq’s com­man­der-in chief, Mr Abdul Mahdi was or­dered to ban the use of live bul­lets and all forms of vi­o­lence against demon­stra­tors.

The three of­fi­cials called for those who carry out ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence against demon­stra­tors to be held ac­count­able.

The lead­ers praised the demon­stra­tors for main­tain­ing a “peace­ful move­ment putting the in­ter­est of the na­tion above their in­ten­tions”.

Mr Abdul Mahdi’s spokesper­son said the prime min­is­ter is di­rectly su­per­vis­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a re­form pack­age de­signed to sat­isfy pro­test­ers who have been out on the streets since Oc­to­ber 1.

The in­de­pen­dent Iraq High Com­mis­sion for Hu­man Rights said yes­ter­day that 319 peo­ple had been killed since the protests started, with 15,000 in­juries.

“The gov­ern­ment must use UN stan­dards when fac­ing civil protests,” an Iraqi of­fi­cial told The Na­tional. “The use of vi­o­lence must only be for self de­fence or for the pre­ven­tion of risk against civil­ians.”

The com­mis­sion and the par­lia­ment’s hu­man rights com­mit­tee com­plained of a lack of co-op­er­a­tion from gov­ern­ment bod­ies meant to pro­vide ca­su­alty fig­ures.

The gov­ern­ment re­cently placed a gag­ging or­der on any of­fi­cial ca­su­alty fig­ures, and medics and ac­tivists say they fear be­ing fol­lowed or ar­rested for their in­volve­ment in protests. The UN said it was

field­ing “daily re­ports of killings, kid­nap­pings, ar­bi­trary ar­rests, beat­ings and in­tim­i­da­tion of pro­test­ers”.

Its top of­fi­cial in Iraq, Jea­nine Hen­nis-Plass­chaert, said a “cli­mate of fear” was de­scend­ing on the coun­try.

The se­cu­rity forces clashed with demon­stra­tors on Bagh­dad’s Khu­lani Square yes­ter­day.

Twelve pro­test­ers died and 100 oth­ers were wounded on Satur­day when the se­cu­rity forces cleared protest sites, med­i­cal sources said.

Nine were killed in Bagh­dad, most struck in the head by tear­gas can­is­ters. Three died in the south­ern city of Basra.

The demon­stra­tors in Bagh­dad tried to reach the three bridges span­ning the Ti­gris that lead into the heav­ily for­ti­fied Green Zone.

They were pushed from Si­nak Bridge to the nearby Khu­lani Square, where 35 peo­ple were wounded, med­i­cal of­fi­cials said. Mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces also re­gained con­trol of Ahrar and Shuhada bridges.

Pro­test­ers have tried to force their way across on an al­most daily ba­sis.

On Fri­day, the au­thor­i­ties found, and de­fused, a bomb un­der Si­nak Bridge, state tele­vi­sion re­ported.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional called the killing of pro­test­ers a blood­bath and said the Iraqi au­thor­i­ties should im­me­di­ately rein in the se­cu­rity forces.

“The gov­ern­ment of Iraq has a duty to pro­tect its peo­ple’s right to life, as well as to gather and ex­press their views. This blood­bath must stop now, and those re­spon­si­ble for it must be brought to jus­tice,” said Heba Mo­rayef, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Mid­dle East and North Africa di­rec­tor.

In the south­ern city of Nasiriyah, se­cu­rity and med­i­cal of­fi­cials said 31 peo­ple were in­jured in con­fronta­tions out­side the ed­u­ca­tion direc­torate as se­cu­rity forces tear-gassed pro­test­ers who were try­ing to block em­ploy­ees from reach­ing the build­ing in the city cen­tre.

Mr Abdul Mahdi on Satur­day said his gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered “the peace­ful protests of our peo­ple as among the most im­por­tant events since 2003”, and vowed to meet de­mands for wide-rang­ing re­forms.

He said elec­toral re­forms would be tabled soon along with “an im­por­tant gov­ern­ment reshuf­fle”.

The prime min­is­ter also ac­knowl­edged that his gov­ern­ment had been block­ing ac­cess to the in­ter­net.

The demon­stra­tors have com­plained of wide­spread cor­rup­tion, a lack of job op­por­tu­ni­ties and poor ba­sic ser­vices, in­clud­ing reg­u­lar power cuts, de­spite Iraq’s vast oil re­serves.

They re­jected gov­ern­ment pro­pos­als for lim­ited eco­nomic re­forms and called on po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mr Abdul Mahdi, to re­sign.

AFP

Twelve pro­test­ers were killed and 100 were wounded on Satur­day when Iraqi se­cu­rity forces cleared rally sites

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