10/26/2019, 09.36
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Iraq, anti-government protests: 23 dead and over 300 wounded. Religious leaders concerned

The protesters tried to force the blockade and enter the "Green Zone".  Eight victims in Baghdad, another three in Nassyria.  At least 68 wounded among the security forces.  A protester: "We are not hungry, we ask for dignity".  Al-Sistani calls for "moderation" and to avoid "chaos".


Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Iraqi religious leaders are increasingly worried about the violent drift in the anti-government protests, which clamed more victims and wounded yesterday.  After the appeal of the Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, who had asked the top executives to listen to the legitimate "demands" of a people in need, yesterday the great ayatollah Ali Sistani intervened, calling for "moderation" and to avoid  chaos".

However, the exhortations of the Christian and Muslim religious leaders seem destined to fall on deaf ears, because yesterday there were at least 23 victims and hundreds of wounded reported throughout the country, in a toll that is still provisional and without official confirmation.  The demonstrations flared in the early hours of yesterday morning near the "Green Zone" in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.  Witnesses say the police used force to disperse protesters, who were trying to break through the security cordon and break into the fortified area, home to the institutions and diplomatic missions.

Despite the measures taken by the government, including a huge deployment of police forces, protesters have blocked some of the most important bridges in the capital, which connect the diplomatic sector with Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest.  "The policemen - a source said - used water cannons to disperse the crowd".  When the protesters tried to force the blockade and break into the "Green Zone", the agents responded with bullet shots in the air and rubber dots.

Eight victims registered in the capital, centered in the face by tear gas bombs fired by the police to disperse the crowd.  Three others are counted in Nassyria, where a group of militants opened fire on protesters, but the dead can be counted in various parts of the country.  At least 350 wounded. For the Iraqi Interior Ministry there are also 68 wounded between agents and members of the security forces.

The demonstrations also involved other important squares such as Misan and Basra in the south and Thi Qar, where people gathered in front of government buildings and held sit-ins.  The reasons for the protest are widespread corruption and the high rate of unemployment, also confirmed by the World Bank numbers: the unemployment rate among young people is 25% and the country is 12th in the world due to corruption.

"We are not hungry" shouted a demonstrator in Baghdad, "we ask for dignity".  Another launched invectives against the political class, guilty of having "monopolized all resources".  Similar protests, which began on October 1st last, had caused the death of at least 150 protesters.  A commission of inquiry has ascertained the excessive use of force by the authorities, but without openly accusing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Demonstrations and violence have moved the highest Shiite religious office in the country, the great ayatollah al-Sistani, who yesterday at the end of Friday prayers addressed policemen and protesters, asking them to maintain a "peaceful" tone of the protest.  "The real reforms and the change in the country - he said through his spokesman - must be achieved in a peaceful manner".  He, who rarely intervenes in political matters, added that security forces must prevent attacks on public and private property.

Before him, Card Sako said he was "close to our people, sensitive to pain" in the "realization" of aspirations for a "better future".  However, the Cardinal also invoked "peaceful and civil demonstrations", while the authorities must respect the "right" of the people.

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