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One dead, 14 injured as Basra protesters set fire to public buildings

Published: Updated:

Iraqi protesters stormed and set fire to a provincial government building in the southern city of Basra, despite a curfew imposed by authorities on Thursday to try and quell demonstrations against poor public services and unemployment that have turned violent.

Meanwhile, the angry protesters in Basra, burned the head quarter of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, while some protesters marched toward the Iranian Consulate in the southern oil-rich city of Basra, according to reports.

According to local security sources, one protester was killed, and 14 injured during the violent protests in Basra on Thursday.

Ten members of the security forces were also wounded, the sources said.

Basra Operations Command announced a curfew would be imposed until further notice, effective immediately.

AFP news agency tweeted a video of angry protesters setting fire to a government building.

The latest death takes the number of civilians who have have been killed to 10 since the start of the month in confrontations between demonstrators and police.

The protests showed no sign of abating on Thursday evening as hundreds of young men took to the streets, shouting: “Peaceful, peaceful.” Several government buildings have been attacked in the past few days of protests that have spread throughout the city.

On the other hand, Iraq’s popular Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for an urgent parliamentary session to discuss the situation in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest province and home to about 70 percent of the OPEC member’s vast oil reserves.

Sadr speech on TV

In a televised speech, al-Sadr said the parliament session should be held no later than Sunday, and that the prime minister and other officials should either attend the session or resign.

The populist cleric’s supporters won the most seats in national elections held earlier this year, but Iraq’s feuding factions have yet to form a new government. The snowballing protests cast a further shadow on those efforts.

A provincial official with state-run Iraqi Ports Co. said authorities closed the vital Um Qasr port on the Gulf since late Wednesday, fearing sabotage. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, wouldn’t say when operations will resume.

Brigadier General Saad Maan, Interior Ministry spokesman, announced a curfew in Basra starting at 3 p.m. on Thursday, citing “intelligence reports of possible attacks on government offices.”

The government has said the protesters’ demands are legitimate, while blaming the violence on saboteurs. The curfew announcement was ignored.

Residents of Basra , a city of more than 2 million people, and other cities in Iraq’s southern Shiite heartland have been protesting since July over endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services.

Basra residents say the water supply has become contaminated with salt, making them vulnerable and desperate in the hot summer months. Hundreds of people have been hospitalized from drinking it.

Clashes with security forceserupted earlier this week, leaving several civilians and police dead. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the violence.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s main seaport closed down on Thursday following violent clashes between protestors and security forces in Basra in which one demonstrator died and 25 more were injured the previous night.

Port employees said that all operations had ceased on Thursday morning at Umm Qasr port as the entrance was still blocked off and trucks and staff were unable to get in or out of the complex.

Overnight, protesters blocked the entrance to the nearby Umm Qasr port, the main lifeline for grain and other commodity imports that feed the country.

They blocked the highway from Basra to Baghdad and set fire to the main provincial government building where they had been demonstrating for a third night.

With Reuters