IRAQ’S PROTESTERS UNIM­PRESSED BY GOVERN­MENT’S PROM­ISES TO CHANGE

▶ Pro­posed elec­toral re­forms by Pres­i­dent Barham Salih may fail to calm the pub­lic anger that has rocked the state

The National - News - - NEWS - MINA ALDROUBI

Iraq has made “great ef­forts” to in­ves­ti­gate at­tacks against peace­ful demon­stra­tors, the coun­try’s min­is­ter of jus­tice said yes­ter­day as teach­ers an­nounced a gen­eral strike in an at­tempt to re­vive the mass protest move­ment.

At least 319 peo­ple have been killed since the protests against po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, un­em­ploy­ment and poor pub­lic services be­gan on Oc­to­ber 1.

“We deeply re­gret the num­ber of peo­ple killed and we re­ject the ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence used on protesters,” Farouq Oth­man said.

Iraqi lead­ers promised to hold ac­count­able those who used ex­ces­sive force against civil­ians, but protesters made it clear they thought of­fi­cials were not se­ri­ous about en­act­ing re­forms, say­ing demon­stra­tions would con­tinue un­til they see solid changes.

In Bagh­dad, school­child­ren skipped class yes­ter­day and headed to the main protest area in Tahrir Square.

“Our coun­try is more dear to me than my only child,” read a sign hang­ing in the square.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple took to the streets in the south­ern city of Kut to voice their anger at the govern­ment, shut­ting schools and pub­lic of­fices.

Most of the schools in the south were closed and govern­ment of­fices cut their hours.

Iraqi Pres­i­dent Barham Salih sub­mit­ted a draft elec­toral law to the govern­ment on Mon­day.

The draft leg­is­la­tion, seen by The Na­tional, calls for a 30 per cent re­duc­tion in the num­ber of par­lia­men­tary seats and an in­crease in the num­ber of vot­ing dis­tricts.

The re­forms also in­clude the low­er­ing of the min­i­mum age of can­di­dates from 30 to 25 years. Po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees to Iraq’s In­de­pen­dent High Elec­toral Com­mis­sion would be re­placed by tech­nocrats and judges.

The draft law also stip­u­lates that elec­toral re­forms should al­low more young peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics to break the cy­cle that has pre­vailed since 2003.

It is not known whether these changes will calm pub­lic anger. Iraq’s top Shi­ite cleric, Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali

Al Sis­tani, cast doubt on the pledges made by of­fi­cials.

“His em­i­nence made clear the im­por­tance of en­act­ing se­ri­ous re­form within a rea­son­able time frame,” his of­fice said on Mon­day. Mr Al Sis­tani said protesters should not go home un­til con­crete steps had been taken in re­sponse to their de­mands.

The cleric speaks on pol­i­tics only dur­ing times of cri­sis and has enor­mous in­flu­ence over pub­lic opinion among Iraq’s Shi­ite com­mu­nity.

His com­ments came after a meet­ing with the UN’s top en­voy to Iraq, Jea­nine Hen­nis-Plass­chaert, in the cen­tral city of Na­jaf to dis­cuss a road map to end the protests and take a se­ries of re­forms for­ward.

“The mar­jaiyah made it clear that it sup­ports the con­duct

Hun­dreds of protesters took to the streets of the south­ern city of Kut yes­ter­day, shut­ting schools and pub­lic of­fices

of se­ri­ous re­forms in a rea­son­able pe­riod of time,” she said, us­ing the Ara­bic name for Mr Al Sis­tani’s re­li­gious author­ity.

“Within that con­text, it wel­comes the pro­pos­als of the United Na­tions, in­clud­ing the proposal for one con­sol­i­dated elec­toral frame­work.”

Mrs Hen­nis-Plass­chaert said the UN would mon­i­tor the govern­ment’s progress to en­sure mea­sures were be­ing taken “promptly, swiftly and de­ci­sively be­cause this coun­try needs to move for­ward”.

AP

Protesters sit on bar­ri­ers set up by the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces to close a bridge lead­ing to the Green Zone in Bagh­dad

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