Baghdad: Protesters left dead as they clash with police

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Clashes between Iraqi protesters and security forces in central Baghdad killed at least two demonstrators overnight, security and medical sources said on Monday.

It was the first such deadly incident for months at Tahrir Square, which became a symbol of anti-government protests during months of deadly mass unrest last year.

The protesters had begun marching from Tahrir to nearby Tayaran Square chanting about worsening power cuts during a heat wave that has sent temperatures soaring above 50 degrees centigrade (122 degrees F) in Iraq.

Security forces tried to contain the march and fired tear gas, according to police, medics and protesters. The protesters threw stones and petrol bombs, a security source said.

Two protesters who were at the demonstration, and Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights, said security forces fired live ammunition to disperse the crowd.

Prime Minster Mustafa al-Kadhimi said in a televised speech later on Monday that the protests “are a legitimate right and the security forces do not have the permission to fire even one bullet in the direction of the protesters”, adding that he has opened an investigation and demanded results within 72 hours.

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Military spokesman Yehia Rasool said in a statement that security forces were given strict instructions not to use force against protesters unless necessary.

Medics at two hospitals in Baghdad said two men were hit in the head and neck with tear gas canisters and died of their injuries. More than 26 protesters were wounded and several members of the security forces suffered minor injuries, police said.

Iraq’s biggest anti-government protests in decades broke out last October and continued for several months with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demanding jobs, services and the removal of the country’s ruling elite, which they say is corrupt.

The protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was replaced in May by incumbent Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief.

Nearly 500 people were killed during last year’s protests.

Sporadic demonstrations have resumed in recent weeks in several Iraqi provinces, most recently over lack of electricity.

“When Latif was martyred, he was holding only the flag. He didn’t drop the flag until he was shot at by the police,” said protester Hussein, who gave only his first name, in reference to one of the protesters killed overnight.

“He was just like any other young man at Tahrir Square, demanding rights for his family, for the people and for his children’s future.”

REUTERS