Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani calls for formation of new government as protesters killed

Iraqi demonstrators burn tires as they block a road during ongoing anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq January 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani calls for formation of new government as protesters killed

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, urged Iraq’s political parties on Friday to form a new government as soon as possible, and urged authorities to respect protesters’ right to express themselves.

Al-Sistani, who delivered his message through a representative at Friday prayer in Karbala, reiterated calls to foreign powers to respect Iraq’s sovereignty. 

“The formation of the new government is constitutionally long overdue, it is necessary for the various parties concerned to cooperate,” Al-Sistani said.

He admonished authorities for “procrastinating” on reform promises and parties for being “very late” in naming a successor to Premier Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has acted as caretaker since resigning in December.

Two anti-government protesters were killed in clashes with security forces in Baghdad, hours after thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr rallied separately to demand the ouster of US troops.

A vowed enemy of US troops, Al-Sadr had called for “a million-strong” rally but did not attend himself. “Get out, get out, occupier!” they chanted.

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A statement read out at Al-Sadr’s rally demanded all foreign forces leave Iraq, Iraqi-American security agreements be cancelled, Iraqi airspace be closed to US military aircraft and for Trump not to act ‘arrogant.’

A statement read by his representative at the rally demanded all foreign forces leave Iraq, Iraqi-American security agreements be cancelled, Iraqi airspace be closed to US military aircraft and for President Donald Trump not to act “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement read.

Four NGO workers, three of them French nationals, were also reported missing in Baghdad, rocked since October by a youth-dominated protest movement demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

The NGO’s director described the men as “experienced staff members who have been working with us for years” and who had “perfect knowledge of conflict zones.”

More than 470 people have died in protest-related violence since October, most of them demonstrators, and violence has spiked this week.

The Pentagon said that 34 US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries suffered in this month’s Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi air base, and that half of the troops have returned to their military duties.

Seventeen of the 34 are still under medical observation, according to Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

Trump had initially said he was told that no troops had been injured in the Jan. 8 strike. The military said symptoms were not immediately reported after the strike and in some cases became known days later.


French president traveling to Lebanon after deadly explosion

Updated 05 August 2020

French president traveling to Lebanon after deadly explosion

  • France is also sending several tons of aid and emergency workers after Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut
  • The blasts killed more than 100 people and injured 4,000

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to Lebanon on Thursday to offer support for the troubled country after a massive, deadly explosion that has drawn global pledges of medical and humanitarian aid.
Macron’s office told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the French leader will meet with Lebanese political leaders. It provided no further details. Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties.
France is also sending several tons of aid and emergency workers after Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut, which killed at least 100 people and injured thousands.
It was unclear what caused the blast, which appeared to have been triggered by a fire and struck with the force of an earthquake. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city
Several other countries across the Middle East and Europe are sending aid. The European Union is activating its civil protection system to round up emergency workers and equipment from across the 27-nation bloc.
The EU commission said the plan is to urgently dispatch over 100 firefighters with vehicles, sniffer dogs and equipment designed to find people trapped in urban areas.
The Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Netherlands are taking part in the effort and other countries are expected to join.
The EU’s satellite mapping system will be used to help Lebanese authorities to establish the extent of the damage.
The French emergency workers traveling to Lebanon include members of a special unit with chemical and other technological expertise trained to intervene in damaged industrial sites. Among their tasks will be to identify specific risks for products stored in the area and other risks resulting from the explosion, said national civil security spokesman Michael Bernier.
Others have experience in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, forest fires and other international disasters.