Iraq declares curfew in Basra to quell protests
LONDON – Iraqi authorities declared a city-wide curfew from 3 p.m. (1200 GMT) to quell protests in Basra, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said at a news conference on Thursday.
Seven protesters have died in Iraq’s second biggest city in recent days as protesters, angry over electricity outages, water contamination, a lack of jobs and proper government services, clashed violently with security forces.
Iraq’s popular Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for an urgent parliamentary session to discuss the situation in the southern city.
In a televised speech on Thursday, Sadr said 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.
Residents of Basra and other cities in Iraq’s southern Shia heartland have been protesting since July.
Clashes erupted earlier this week, leaving several civilians and police dead. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the violence.
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.
Residents in Basra, a city of more than 2 million people, say the water supply has become contaminated with salt, making them vulnerable and desperate in the hot summer months. Hundreds of people have been hospitalised from drinking it.
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.
Reinforcements had been sent to Basra and concrete blocks erected to protect the government building, which for demonstrators has become a symbol of state corruption and neglect.
Residents are particularly angry over pollution of the local water supply, which has put 20,000 people in hospital.
The United Nations envoy to Iraq had called for “calm” in Basra ahead of Wednesday’s clashes and urged the authorities “to avoid using disproportionate, lethal force against the demonstrators”.
The UN’s Jan Kubis also asked the government to “investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the outbreak of violence” and “do its utmost to respond to the people’s rightful demands of clean water and electricity supplies”.
The authorities have pledged to take measures to put an end to the health crisis that has ravaged the oil-rich province of Basra.
(Arab Weekly and news agencies)