Sun, Jan 26, 2020 - Page 3 News List

Iraqi police, protesters clash in Baghdad

CLERIC PULLS BACKING:The move by security forces began just hours after cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said his supporters would no longer back anti-government protests

Reuters and AFP, BAGHDAD

Anti-government protesters walk on al-Sinek Bridge in Baghdad yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Iraqi security forces yesterday advanced toward Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the main protest camp in the capital, firing tear gas and live rounds at protesters, witnesses said.

Clashes between protesters and police injured at least 19 demonstrators as authorities began to remove concrete barriers erected for months near a main anti-government demonstration site, medics and eyewitnesses said.

Police in the southern port city of Basra raided a sit-in overnight and deployed in force early yesterday in an attempt to clear the main protest camp and open up roads blocked off by demonstrators there, security sources said.

The security forces arrested 16 demonstrators in Basra, the sources said.

Their protesters’ tents were burned down and municipal staff could be seen clearing the charred remains to reopen the square.

The moves by security forces, which appeared to be aimed at ending months of anti-government unrest, came after supporters of the powerful populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr began packing up their tents and leaving sit-ins following a massive rally in Baghdad on Friday call for US troops to leave Iraq.

There were no official estimates of Friday’s turnout and organizers gave varying figures, but it clearly fell short of the “million-man”march that had been called for by al-Sadr.

Later on Friday al-Sadr wrote on Twitter that he would halt any involvement by his supporters in the demonstrations that have called since October last year for the removal of Iraq’s ruling elite.

He had backed the protests from soon and called on the government to resign — even though he controls parliament’s largest bloc and top ministerial posts.

The anti-government protesters have long feared that if al-Sadr withdrew his support, they would lose political cover.

Many demonstrators were seen taking down tents in the cities of Hilla, Diwaniyah, Kut and Amarah.

Demonstrators had blocked off Tayaran Square and the Mohammad Qasim highway in east Baghdad since Monday in an attempt to pressure the government to enact long-awaited reforms and hold snap elections, but the protesters were pushed out by security forces yesterday.

The city’s military command also announced it had retaken control of Ahrar Bridge, a flashpoint for clashes between security forces and demonstrators for months.

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