Supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr occupied the country’s parliament on Saturday with no plan to leave, deepening a months-long political standoff.
It is the second time in days that supporters of the firebrand Shiite cleric have forced their way into the legislative chamber, after elections in October last year failed to lead to the formation of a government.
“The demonstrators announce a sit-in until further notice,” al-Sadr’s movement said in a brief statement to journalists carried by state news agency INA.
In multiconfessional and multiethnic Iraq, government formation has involved complex negotiations since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
Supporters of al-Sadr, who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces, oppose a rival, pro-Iran Shiite bloc’s pick for prime minister — Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.
The post conventionally goes to a figure from Iraq’s Shiite majority.
Al-Sadr’s bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction, but was still far short of a majority. The mercurial cleric is now using street protests to pile pressure on his political opponents.
Demonstrators inside the legislature waved Iraqi flags and pictures of the cleric. They crowded the chamber, where some sat at lawmakers’ desks while others milled about, raising their mobile phones to film the occupation. Outside, protesters erected a large tent as they settled in, with volunteers delivering hot meals and bottled water.
Security forces looked on as one man lit a fire in the gardens to warm some tea, another sold cigarettes, and women and children trickled in to join al-Sadr’s other supporters.
Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi said “all parliamentary meetings” had been suspended.
The crowds entered the chamber after thousands of protesters had massed at the end of a bridge leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone before dozens pulled down concrete barriers and ran inside, an Agence France-Presse photographer reported.
Security forces had fired tear gas and water cannon near an entrance to the district, also home to foreign embassies and other government buildings.
Some protesters on the bridge were injured and carried off by demonstrators.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health said at least 100 protesters and 25 security personnel had been hurt.
“All the people are with you, Sayyed Moqtada,” the protesters chanted, using his title as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.
Long a player in Iraqi politics, al-Sadr has a devoted following of millions among the country’s majority Shiite population.
His supporters oppose the candidacy of al-Sudani, the pick for prime minister of the Coordination Framework, an alliance of pro-Iran Shiite factions.
The protests are the latest challenge for a country trying to overcome decades of war.
Despite oil wealth and elevated global crude prices, Iraq remains hobbled by corruption, unemployment and other problems, which sparked a youth-led protest movement in 2019.
Saturday’s demonstration came after crowds of al-Sadr supporters breached the Green Zone and entered the legislature on Wednesday. They left two hours later after al-Sadr told them to.
LOST AT SEA: Survivors of a sunken Cambodian ship said they floated for two days in open waters, while a UN official said that traffickers might continue undeterred Chinese survivors from a boat that sank near a Cambodian island, killing three people and leaving eight missing, said they embarked on what they believed would be a short-term fishing job and ended up without food and water aboard the vessel, and their belongings were taken away. Cambodian authorities said on Friday they rescued 21 people one day after the boat small wooden fishing vessel sank near Koh Tang, a Cambodian island close to the maritime border with Vietnam. Nine more people were rescued by the Vietnamese and three bodies were recovered by Cambodia, leaving eight people still missing, Preah Sihanouk provincial
SOUTH CHINA SEA: Despite differences on some matters, Marcos has pledged to foster closer ties with China, calling the relationship ‘advantageous’ to both nations The Philippines is interested in renewing talks with China on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea to expand and diversify its sources of energy, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said in an interview. The Southeast Asian country seeks a compromise with China, which is claiming parts of the South China Sea that are within Philippine territory, Marcos said, stressing that any agreement must not contravene his nation’s laws. While the Philippines and China could not agree on which nation’s law would apply, “we continue to explore, perhaps there can be other ways that we can do it,” Marcos
Prominent Chinese commentator Hu Xijin (胡錫進) on Sunday said that as China ponders its COVID-19 policies, epidemic experts need to speak out and China ought to conduct comprehensive research and make any studies transparent to the public. Hu’s unusual call on Chinese social media for candor and transparency earned him 34,000 likes on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform, as well as frank responses from commentators in a normally tightly policed Internet quick to censor voices deemed a risk to social stability. China’s top leaders warned in May amid the COVID-19 lockdown of Shanghai and widespread restrictions in the Chinese capital, Beijing,
Standing in line to try to buy food, Rekha Begum is distraught. Like many others in Bangladesh, she is struggling to find affordable daily essentials such as rice, lentils and onions. “I went to two other places, but they told me they don’t have supplies. Then I came here and stood at the end of the queue,” said Begum, 60, as she waited for nearly two hours to buy what she needed from a truck selling food at subsidized prices in the capital, Dhaka. Bangladesh’s economic miracle is under severe strain, as fuel price hikes amplify public frustrations over rising costs for