Iraq: Hundreds Protest Over Jobs, Services

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Associated Press= BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of Iraqi demonstrators massed Thursday in the southern city of Basra to demand the local governor’s ouster while protesters elsewhere stormed a local government building, the latest examples of the anger sweeping the country over poor government services and high unemployment.

About 600 people gathered in front of the Basra provincial headquarters, facing off against police who were protecting the building. With the exception of some pushing and shoving, witnesses said the protest was largely peaceful.

“We are demanding that the Basra governor be fired because he has not done anything good for Basra,” said Mohammed Ali Jasim, a 50-year-old father of nine who came out to the protest in Iraq’s second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.

In Nasir, (168 miles) 270 kilometers south of Baghdad, dozens of angry protesters stormed into the municipal building, setting fire to it, a police official in the provincial capital of Nasiriyah said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Five policemen were wounded after protesters hurled stones at the building and five protesters were arrested before a curfew was imposed on the town, the officer said.

Such small-scale demonstrations have happened almost daily across the impoverished southern Iraqi provinces, staged by frustrated Iraqis who enjoy political freedom but little economic success.

A day earlier in the city of Kut, about 2,000 stone-throwing demonstrators attacked local government offices, setting fire to some buildings, including the governor’s house. Kut is 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.

Witnesses said Iraqi police and soldiers shot at demonstrators who pelted the offices with stones and commandeered military vehicles. The spokeswoman for Wasit province, Sondos al-Dahabi, said Thursday that three demonstrators were shot and killed. Al-Dahabi put the number of the wounded at 30, including 15 police officers.

The top health official for the province, Diaa al-Aboudi, said he was only aware of one fatality, an Iraqi soldier. Fifty-five people were injured, he said. Some were shot while others were hit by stones thrown by demonstrators or burned in the melee.

Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of violent events in Iraq.

Provincial authorities held an emergency meeting to discuss protesters’ demands, al-Dahabi said. The authorities also lifted a curfew imposed Wednesday.

Iraq is one of the few countries with a democratically elected government in the Middle East but leaders here have not been immune from the anger engulfing the region. Iraqis have a long list of grievances against their leaders, including electricity that sometimes works only a few hours a day, unemployment that runs as high as 30 percent and rampant corruption.

As security has improved, attention has turned to quality of life and economic issues instead.

Meanwhile, gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed a spokesman for the provincial government in the northern city of Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, police said.

AP foreign, Thursday February 17 2011

Source: AP

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