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Toll rises as Iraq, Yemen protests rage

Posted February 26, 2011 07:13:00

Security forces used water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands of angry protesters in Baghdad as a "Day of Rage" across Iraq left 15 demonstrators dead in clashes with police.

Around 5,000 people thronged Baghdad's Tahrir Square, with angry crowds throwing stones, shoes and plastic bottles at riot police and soldiers blocking off a bridge connecting the site to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the US embassy and parliament.

The protest was the biggest of at least 17 separate demonstrations across the country, some sparking clashes in which more than 130 people were wounded, according to a tally based on accounts by officials.

Four government buildings were also set ablaze and one provincial governor resigned.

By evening, most of the crowd in Baghdad had left and security forces refused to allow anyone to enter the area surrounding the square.

A journalist said security forces had used a water cannon and tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowd. An interior ministry official said 15 people were wounded.

During the protest, demonstrators overturned two concrete blast walls on Jumhuriyah bridge, spurring lines of anti-riot police and soldiers to assemble, blocking it off.

Security was deployed in force, imposing a city-wide vehicle ban after prime minister Nouri al-Maliki claimed Al Qaeda insurgents and loyalists of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein were behind the demonstrations.

Following the conclusion of Friday's protests in Baghdad, Mr Maliki said in a statement that Iraqis behaved responsibly, and said the country "did not give a chance to terrorists to take action".

Rallies in Iraq have called for improved public services, more jobs and less corruption, and some for broader political reforms.

Rated the fourth-most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International, Iraq suffers from poor electricity and water provision, as well as high unemployment nearly eight years after the 2003 US-led invasion.

MP Sabah al-Saadi, who turned up at the Baghdad protest, was met with shouts and jeers, with one protester asking: "Why are MPs taking millions of dinars in salaries?"

"You have to cut your salary - we have nothing! Why are you taking so much money when we have no money?"

But attendance at the Baghdad protest, which had been expected to draw tens of thousands, was partly muted by the fact that several religious leaders asked their followers not to attend.

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in particular, said his partisans should give the government, of which his bloc is a key member, six months to improve its record.

Friday's rally, like others across the region, was largely organised on social networking website Facebook and billed as Iraq's "Day of Rage", in reference to events in Egypt that forced out president Hosni Mubarak.

Yemen protests

Meanwhile, vast crowds took to the streets across Yemen after weekly Muslim prayers to demand veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh step down in mass protests that left one killed and 22 injured in clashes with police.

In the capital, tens of thousands of protesters poured into a main square near Sanaa University chanting "Out, out!" and "God bears witness to your acts, Abdullah," a correspondent reported.

Organisers estimated the numbers at 100,000.

Police set up checkpoints after Mr Saleh on Thursday ordered his forces to offer "full protection" to anti-regime protesters and loyalists alike.

In the past week two people have been killed in clashes with Saleh loyalists in Sanaa, and one was killed in similar violence in Taez, south of the capital, where a correspondent and organisers said hundreds of thousands of anti-Saleh protesters demonstrated.

The protesters had dubbed Friday "the beginning of the end" for Mr Saleh's regime, which has been in power since 1978.

"There is no solution unless the regime steps down," prayer leader Sheikh Abdullah Satar told the faithful over a megaphone.

Saleh loyalists also demonstrated in Al-Tahrir square, where they have been gathered since early February.

A protester was killed when clashes broke out in the southern port of Aden, where security forces fired tear gas and live rounds as thousands marched from several parts of the city towards tightly patrolled Al-Aroob Square in Khor Maksar neighbourhood, witnesses said.

Mohammed Ahmed Saleh, 17, died from gunshot wounds in hospital in Khor Maksar, a hospital official said.

Medics also said 22 people were hurt, 20 in Al-Arish district and another two in Al-Memlah.

"Police dispersed thousands of protesters by force in Al-Arish neighbourhood," one organiser, Wafi al-Shabi, said.

Security forces also arrested many demonstrators, said Mr Shabi, who added that he did not have exact figures on the numbers held.

The teenager's death raised to 13 the number of victims of almost daily clashes between police and protesters in Aden since February 16, according to a tally based on reports by medics and witnesses.

- AFP

Tags: world-politics, unrest-conflict-and-war, iraq, yemen

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