Anti-government protests sweep Iraq

Iraqis take part in an anti-government demonstration in Falluja on 28 December 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Thaier al-Sudani)

Published Friday, December 28, 2012

Tens of thousands of protesters opposed to Iraq's prime minister blocked the main highway to Syria and Jordan for the sixth consecutive day on Friday, a move the premier slammed as "unacceptable."

Demonstrators called for Nouri al-Maliki to resign after he criticized protesters in a call for dialogue, while security forces barred Baghdad-based journalists from entering the province where the biggest protests were being held.

Major demonstrations have taken place this week in the provinces of Nineveh and Salaheddin, but the biggest rallies have been in Anbar, west of Baghdad, following the arrest of at least nine guards of Sunni Arab Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi.

The protesters accuse Maliki, a Shia, of sectarianism. On Friday, protesters in Anbar provincial capital Ramadi called for the release of prisoners they allege were arrested on sectarian grounds, while some held banners that read: "Get out, Maliki."

"The Iraqi people are united," said a statement issued by one of the groups organizing the protest, the Coordination Committees of the Revolution, referring to Maliki as "a sectarian prime minister."

Among the protesters were residents of the northern Kurdish region, the southern port city of Basra, and the main northern city of Mosul.

Protesters have been demonstrating in Ramadi since Sunday, blocking the main highway to Syria and Jordan for the past six days.

Army units barred Baghdad-based journalists from entering Anbar province, holding teams from AFP and other media at a checkpoint between Baghdad and Ramadi for more than five hours.

They also confiscated their press badges, promising to return them only if they turned back to Baghdad.

Maliki argued in a speech in Baghdad that countries "must rely on civil means of expression," adding that "cutting roads and stirring sectarian strife" is "not acceptable."

The demonstrations began on Sunday after Essawi's guards were arrested by security forces on December 20 on terrorism charges, leading the minister, a prominent member of the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, to call for Maliki to resign or be removed.

Iraqiya and other members of Maliki's unstable national unity government have accused him in the past year of concentrating power in his hands and moving towards a dictatorship.

(AFP)

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