State of emergency declared as Iraqi Shia protesters storm Baghdad parliament

Posted by News Express | 30 April 2016 | 2,139 times

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Hundreds of Shia Muslim activists have stormed Iraq’s parliament in protest against ongoing deadlock in approving a new cabinet.

Supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr broke through barricades of the protected Green Zone in Baghdad after MPs again failed to convene for a vote.

A state of emergency has been declared in the city, but not a curfew.

Security forces near the US embassy later fired tear gas to stop more protesters entering the Green Zone.

Mr Sadr wants PM Haider al-Abadi to commit to a plan to replace ministers with non-partisan technocrats.

Powerful parties in parliament have refused to approve the change for several weeks.

Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the Green Zone, the most secure part of Baghdad that houses embassies and government buildings, to protest against the political deadlock.

A new protest outside the zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum on Saturday.

Groups marched on the district soon after the end of a televised appearance by Mr Sadr, although he did not call for the storming of parliament.

The protesters tried to topped lawmakers attempting to flee the building.

One protester, Ali Mohammed, said they were angry at the politicians’ failure to act.

“The people have come to the right place, to rule themselves,” he told Reuters news agency.

“The people are now staging a sit-in inside parliament. Our legitimate and only demand is to dismiss the government and replace it with an independent cabinet of technocrats.”

The protesters are reported to have begun ransacking parliament buildings. United Nations and embassy staff were on lockdown inside their compounds, Reuters reported.

Iraq’s system of sharing government jobs has long been criticised for promoting unqualified candidates and encouraging corruption.

Mr Abadi, who came to power in 2014, has promised to stamp out corruption and ease sectarian tensions, but he has failed to far to introduce a new technocratic cabinet.

A survey by the Pew Research Centre in 2011 found that 51% of Iraqi Muslims identified themselves as Shia, compared with 42% Sunni.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, a car bomb targeted a group of Shia Muslim pilgrims on Saturday, killing at least 21 people.

The Shia cleric and his militia group, the Mehdi Army, gained prominence after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 galvanising anti-US sentiment.

Mr Sadr’s followers clashed repeatedly with US forces, whose withdrawal the cleric consistently demanded.

An arrest warrant was issued for Mr Sadr in 2004 in connection with the murder of a rival cleric.

His militia was also blamed for the torture and killing of thousands of Sunnis in the sectarian carnage of 2006 and 2007. Mr Sadr fled to Iran during that period.

In 2011, Mr Sadr returned from his self-imposed exile to Iraq, taking a more conciliatory tone and calling for Iraqi unity and peace.

•Adapted from a BBC report. Reuters Photo shows Iraqi Shia Muslim demonstrators streaming through the Green Zone’s defences . . . hours ago.

Source: News Express

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