Protesters regain control of third bridge in Baghdad

Iraqi anti-government protesters gather at a sit-in near barricades over Sinak bridge. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Protesters regain control of third bridge in Baghdad

  • Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to prevent protesters from getting right across Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad
  • More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Iraqi protesters regained control of a third bridge leading to Baghdad’s Green Zone on Sunday, taking further ground in the biggest wave of anti-government demonstrations in decades.
Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to prevent protesters from getting right across Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad, part of a weeks-long attempt to disrupt traffic and reach the Green Zone housing government ministry and embassies.
Protesters made a barricade of old cabinets, trash cans and metal sheeting on the bridge while security forces took positions behind blast walls installed to prevent protesters from crossing to the other side. Protesters who choked on the tear gas were evacuated by tuk-tuk, a Reuters cameraman said.
On Saturday, Iraqi demonstrators reoccupied part of adjacent Sinak Bridge and a nearby tall building in Baghdad that security forces had pushed them away from a week before. They have held a third bridge, Jamhuriya, since October 25.
More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
In Basra in the south, dozens of protesters burned tires and briefly blocked some roads on Sunday, before police managed to restore control and reopen them, police said.
The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.


Houthis back down over access to ‘ticking timebomb’ Red Sea tanker

Updated 9 min ago

Houthis back down over access to ‘ticking timebomb’ Red Sea tanker

  • UN technical team set to board stricken vessel to avert environmental disaster from 1.4m-barrel oil spill

JEDDAH: Houthi militias in Yemen finally backed down on Sunday over access to a stricken oil storage vessel to prevent it from leaking more than a million barrels of crude into the Red Sea.

Engineers from a UN inspection team are now expected to board the FSO Safer in the next few days to assess the vessel’s condition and carry out emergency repairs.

The 45-year-old Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It is stationary, with no engine or means of propulsion. The vessel fell into the hands of the Iran-backed Houthis in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The militants have refused for more than 5 years to allow international engineers to board the Safer to carry out essential repairs, and as the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out. A breach would have disastrous results for Red Sea marine life and tens of thousands of people who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Apart from corrosion, essential work on reducing explosive gases in the storage tanks has been neglected for years. The Yemen government has warned the Safer could explode and cause “the largest environmental disaster, regionally and globally.”

FASTFACTS

  • The 45-year-old Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988.
  • It is stationary, with no engine or means of propulsion.
  • The Yemen government has warned the Safer could explode and cause a regional and global environmental disaster.

 The latest problem came in May with a leak in a cooling pipe. “The pipe burst, sending water into the engine room and creating a really dangerous situation,” said Ian Ralby, chief executive of the maritime consultancy IR Consilium.

If the vessel ruptures, “you’re going to have two catastrophes,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

 “There’s going to be an environmental catastrophe that’s bigger than almost any other similar kind ... and it’s going to be a humanitarian catastrophe because that oil will make the port of Hodeidah unusable.”

Critics say the Houthis have been using the Safer to blackmail Yemen’s legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil. Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed wants the proceeds from selling the oil to be spent on health care and humanitarian aid.

Crude stored in the Safer’s tanks is worth about $40 million, half what it was before prices crashed, and experts say it may be of poor quality and worthless.

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