Church leaders express fear the country might be “slipping into the unknown”. They call on the government to take “historic and courageous” steps towards reform. They stress the need for “courageous and responsible” cultural dialogue, and call for prayers for the dead and wounded. Overnight violence in Kerbala has left 18 people dead and 865 wounded.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Church leaders in Baghdad met this morning at the See of the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad at the invitation of Card Louis Raphael Sako, this according to a note sent to AsiaNews.
The meeting focused on solidarity with “peaceful” protesters, support for their “legitimate demands" for work, housing, services, social and health assistance, as well as for a “decisive fight” against corruption and for the “recovery” of “looted” government funds.
Speaking about the rising violence, which saw more casualties over night, Christian religious leaders reiterated their concern for their “beloved country” and call on political and government leaders to take “effective” measures to prevent the country “from slipping into the unknown.”
“As Iraqi shepherds, and in view of our historical responsibility towards this country of civilisations, we call upon the government to take courageous and historical decisions that should effectively reform what needs to be reformed”, reads the note.
The current crisis, they warn, can only be overcome through “responsible and brave cultural dialogue away from force and violence that does not serve the country.”
In the meantime, violence broke out overnight in Kerbala, a Shia holy city about 100 kilometres south-west of Baghdad, with some hooded men shooting at protesters. The latest tally rose to 18 dead and 865 wounded, plus others involved in clashes with the police.
Witnesses talk about indiscriminate violence, whilst security officials have denied claims that they used force to quell the unrest.
Challenging the authorities, more and more students are joining the protest, evidence that the young are leading the movement against economic hardships, widespread corruption and 25 per cent unemployment.
According to various sources, soldiers in the capital repeatedly attacked young people with clubs and truncheons, some of whom met with Card Sako when he visited a local hospital yesterday.
Christian leaders salute “these young men and women, who represent the future of Iraq, for their peaceful protesting, overcoming sectarian barriers, [and] emphasising the one Iraqi national identity”.
They call for an Iraq centred on “a civil society respecting pluralism and a home for all.”
“With hearts full of hope, we urge all protesters to keep their demonstrations peaceful, by not allowing intruders to hijack it from them, and avoid attacking public and private property.”
At the same time, they urge the government to “to assume its responsibility by protecting the lives of protesters and their rights to a peaceful expression of opinions”.
The Christian leaders end their note with a prayer “to the Almighty God to grant His mercy on the souls of victims of both protesters and security forces” and “to heal the injured”.