Iraq protesters keep up rallies despite pressure from riot police

Demonstrators often gather in Tahrir Square in Baghdad. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2020

Iraq protesters keep up rallies despite pressure from riot police

  • Police shot four protesters dead on Saturday
  • University students in Baghdad have mostly thrown rocks at riot police but some have tossed Molotov cocktails.

BAGHDAD: Security forces shot live rounds to clear protest hotspots in Baghdad and southern Iraq for a second day Sunday, sparking skirmishes with demonstrators determined to keep up their movement.
Violence has resurged in the capital and Shiite-majority south this week, with more than 15 people killed as anti-government activists ramped up their road closures and sit-ins while security forces sought to snuff out the campaign.
On Saturday, four protesters were shot dead as riot police stormed protest camps across the country, according to medics, stoking fears of a broader crackdown.
But the demonstrators returned in large numbers throughout the evening and by Sunday morning, they were rallying again.
In Basra, hundreds of students protested over riot police’s dismantling of their main protest camp the previous day, according to an AFP correspondent.
Others gathered in the holy city of Najaf and university students led a protest in Kut, where they erected new tents to replace those taken down the previous day.
In Baghdad, young demonstrators on Saturday flooded their main encampment at Tahrir Square and security forces continued using live rounds the next morning in a bid to disperse small rallies in nearby Khallani and Wathba squares.
That left at least 17 protesters wounded, a police source told AFP, but security forces stopped short of entering Tahrir Square.
University students were planning to march on Sunday from a Baghdad campus to Tahrir Square, and other student-led rallies are planned for this week.
The young demonstrators have mostly thrown rocks at riot police but some have tossed Molotov cocktails.
In Nasiriyah to the south, security forces Sunday also fired live rounds to disperse protesters, who were angered by authorities pushing them out of thoroughfares around their main protest camp in Habbubi Square.
At least 50 protesters suffered bullet wounds and around 100 were impacted by tear gas in brief skirmishes, a medical source told AFP.
The youth-dominated protests erupted on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption.
They spiralled into outraged calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence.
Protesters are now specifically demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.
Parliament has passed a new electoral law and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi submitted his resignation in December, but he still serves in a caretaker role and authorities have otherwise failed to act on the protesters’ demands.
“Unaccountability and indecisiveness are unworthy of Iraqi hopes, courageously expressed for four months now,” the United Nations’ top Iraq official, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said on Saturday.
“While death and injury tolls continue to rise, steps taken so far will remain hollow if not completed.”
Activists have long worried that their movement could be snuffed out after firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr dropped his support on Friday.
The notoriously fickle militia leader-turned-politician backed the protests when they first started and called on the government to resign — even though he controls the largest bloc in parliament and top ministerial posts.
Sadr’s supporters had widely been recognized as the best-organized and well-stocked protesters in Tahrir.
But after holding an anti-US rally in Baghdad on Friday that was attended by thousands, Sadr said he no longer wanted to be involved in the separate regime change movement.
Within hours, his supporters were dismantling their tents in protest camps across the country and riot police began moving in.
Analysts said Sadr was striving to both maintain his street credibility and win favor with Iraq’s powerful neighbor Iran.
Sadr has complex ties with Iran. He is completing advanced religious studies in the holy city of Qom, but has often worked against Iranian-backed parties in Iraqi politics.
Iran holds tremendous political and military sway in Iraq and will likely have a major say in who Abdel Mahdi’s replacement will be.
Talks over the next premier remain at a stalemate in Baghdad in the absence of two key brokers — Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi military powerhouse Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Both were killed in a US drone strike on Baghdad on January 3, which outraged Iraq and fueled calls for the 5,200 US troops deployed there to leave.


Egypt arrests alleged serial sexual predator

Updated 04 July 2020

Egypt arrests alleged serial sexual predator

  • Allegations have been widely circulating on social media detailing horrific sexual abuse and related blackmail suffered by women at the hands of the same man
  • Trending hashtags carrying the alleged abuser’s name widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, urging government action

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities on Saturday arrested a man who allegedly sexually abused dozens of girls and women, in a case that has sparked outrage online, a security source said.
Allegations have been widely circulating on social media since Wednesday detailing horrific sexual abuse and related blackmail suffered by women at the hands of the same man.
One allegation claimed that he attempted to abuse a 14-year-old girl.
“The person accused of harassing the girls has been arrested and will be facing the prosecution following the allegations carried on social media,” the security source said.
“Those affected should submit formal reports of the harm they endured,” the source added.
The source did not identify the suspect.
According to the social media reports, the first of which was published on an Instagram account, the abuse had been going on since at least 2018.
Trending hashtags carrying the alleged abuser’s name widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, urging government action.
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) lodged an official complaint with the public prosecutor to investigate the allegations on Saturday.
“The NCW has followed the social media account on Instagram, which was launched by girls and women complaining that a man raped some of them and sexually assaulted and harassed others,” it said on Facebook.
It also said that several victims, who reached out to the council, recounted that the man “blackmailed and threatened to defame them using photos and clips documenting his heinous crimes.”
The council urged the women to submit official complaints to the prosecutor.
Some online reports suggested the perpetrator was a university student.
The American University in Cairo acknowledged the suspect had studied there but said he left the university in 2018.
He “is not a current student at the American University in Cairo,” a statement said.
Sexual harassment is highly prevalent in Egypt.
United Nations surveys have found that most Egyptian women have been subject to harassment, ranging from catcalling to pinching and groping.
Egyptian authorities have criminalized sexual harassment since 2014, but many women complain that the problem remains rampant.