Iraqi protests spread to Basra

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Iraqis take to the streets to protest over public services in Basra (AP)

Hundreds of demonstrators have massed in the Iraqi city of Basra to demand the removal of the local governor, a day after a similar anti-government protest sparked violence that killed three people.

The new demonstration by people demanding better services, an end to corruption and more jobs is the latest outburst to hit Iraq in the wake of the regional upheaval that started in Tunisia and is now sweeping the Middle East.

About 600 people gathered in front of the Basra provincial headquarters, facing off against police protecting the building. There was some pushing and shoving between protesters and police, but the protest was largely peaceful.

A day earlier in the city of Kut, 100 miles south-east of Baghdad, about 2,000 stone-throwing demonstrators attacked local government offices, setting fire to some buildings, including the governor’s house.

Witnesses said Iraqi police and soldiers shot at demonstrators who pelted the officers with stones and commandeered military vehicles. The spokeswoman for Wasit province, Sondos al-Dahabi, said three demonstrators were shot and killed. Mr al-Dahabi put the number of the wounded at 30, including 15 policemen.

The senior health official for the province, Diaa al-Aboudi, said he was only aware of one death, an Iraqi soldier. Fifty-five people were injured, he said. Some were shot while others were hit by stones thrown by demonstrators or burned in the melee.

Provincial authorities held an emergency meeting to discuss protesters’ demands, Mr al-Dahabi said. The authorities also lifted a curfew imposed on Wednesday.

Iraq is one of the few countries with a democratically elected government in the Middle East but leaders here have not been immune from the anger engulfing the region. Iraqis have a long list of grievances against their leaders, including electricity that sometimes works only a few hours a day, unemployment that runs as high as 30% and rampant corruption.

As security has improved, attention has turned to quality of life and economic issues instead.

Meanwhile, gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed a local official in the northern city of Mosul, police said. Hilal al-Ahmadi, 50, was the spokesman of the provincial post and communication office.

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