Iraqis keep up sit-ins amid fears of ‘bloodbath’ – World

Iraqi anti-government protesters clashed with security forces and held their seats on Sunday, when a human rights group warned that a deadly repression could turn into a "bloodbath."

Mass demonstrations calling for a reform of the government system have shaken the capital, Baghdad, and the Shiite majority to the south since early October, but political forces closed ranks this week to defend the government.

The consensus seems to have paved the way for repression, and 12 protesters were killed on Saturday when security forces cleared protest sites, medical sources said.

Nine were killed in Baghdad, mostly hit in the head by tear gas, and three died in the southern city of Basra.

Protesters tried to regroup on Sunday in the main protest camp in Baghdad in Tahrir Square (Liberation), but the crowds were smaller than before.

"Since last night, security forces have been trying to move towards Tahrir to empty it," said a protester wrapped in an Iraqi flag.

Protesters could be seen trying to tear down large concrete walls that security forces had erected to cut Tahrir from nearby Khallani Square.

A medical source said about 30 people were injured in Khallani on Sunday, while volunteer doctor Azhar Qassem said doctors would remain in Tahrir to treat the injured.

"We will not retire," he insisted.

"This is becoming nothing less than a bloodbath," said the human rights group Amnesty International, asking the authorities to "immediately control the security forces."

"All government promises of reforms or investigations sound empty as security forces continue to shoot and kill protesters," said regional director Heba Morayef.

Tear gas & # 39; inside the hospital & # 39;

In the first official figure in days, the parliament's human rights committee said 319 people have been killed since protests erupted on October 1, including protesters and security forces.

He also documented sniper shots and the use of hunting rifles and "sound bombs", large stun grenades that are planted, not thrown, near the protest sites that are cleared.

In Basra, about 30 people marched to their usual protest place outside the provincial headquarters on Sunday, but the police kept them hundreds of meters away.

Security sources stormed the Habboubi Children's Hospital in Nasiriyah to locate the personnel who had been protesting and "threw tear gas into the hospital," said the head of the health direction, Abdelhussein al-Jaberi. AFP.

"We had to transfer the patient children to Moussawi hospital to save their lives," Jaberi said.

Police also prevented students from leaving their classrooms in Diwaniyah to join striking university students, but protesters gathered in Hillah and Kut.

Public anger erupted early last month over unbridled corruption and lack of jobs, but then it became a call to overthrow a regime guilty of perpetuating graft and clientelism.

Iraq, rich in oil, is the second largest producer of OPEC, but one in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment is 25{7be40b84a6a43fc4fae13304fce9a2695859798abfc41afd127b9f8b21c5f9c5}, says the World Bank.

The government has suggested a series of reforms, including recruitment campaigns, social assistance plans, a renewal of the electoral law and constitutional amendments.

But it has resisted calls to review the system, with rival political forces gathered around Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

& # 39; Climate of fear & # 39;

Abdel Mahdi, President Barham Saleh and the President of Parliament, Mohammed al-Halbusi, met on Sunday and reiterated plans to move forward with the reforms.

They also insisted that the security forces had been instructed "not to use live fire or excessive violence" against the protesters.

The United Nations warned that a "climate of fear" was taking place in Iraq amid "daily reports of murders, kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, beatings and intimidation of protesters."

Meanwhile, human rights defenders criticized the government for restricting the Internet, which returned intermittently to parts of Iraq on Sunday before being closed again.

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power last year through an unstable alliance between populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Ameri, a leader of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network.

When the protests began in October, Sadr supported his weight behind them while Hashed backed the government.

But a series of meetings led by Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the foreign operations arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, produced an agreement to save the government, senior political sources said. AFP.

"Those meetings resulted in an agreement that Abdel Mahdi would remain in office," the source said.



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