02/25/2011, 00.00
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First deaths in Iraq’s ‘day of rage’

Thousands of people take to the streets in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities to demand an end to corruption, food shortages, unemployment and power blackouts. They also want local officials replaced. Yesterday, the government called on the people to boycott the protest, saying al-Qaeda could be among organisers.
 Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least five Iraqis were killed in Mosul. Two people died and another 20 were wounded in the northern town of Hawija. This is the preliminary toll of an anti-government ‘day of rage’ launched to protest against corruption, food shortages, unemployment, and power blackouts. Protesters also want local officials sacked.

Despite calls by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to boycott the event, thousands of people crowded Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square. In his appeal, the Iraqi premier warned that shadowy members of al-Qaeda and pro-Saddam Hussein supporters are behind the demonstration.

Like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Facebook was the means by which the rally was organised. In addition to the Iraqi capital, demonstrators have also gathered in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Nassiriya.

The prime minister, whose Shia-led coalition government was formed only two months ago, said that whilst Iraqis have a right to demonstrate peacefully, they must watch out that “Saddamites, terrorists and al-Qaeda” could “take advantage of the demonstration for their own benefit.”

“Let freedom ring in the streets of Baghdad. Let us learn the lessons of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya” are some of the slogans posted online in recent days. However, unlike other Arab countries, Iraqis are not calling for the overthrow of the government.

Last night, truckloads of anti-riot police were sent to block all roads leading to Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Every side street in a radius of 100 metres around the square was cordoned off with barbed wire and security vehicles.

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