Iraqi police fire live shots, tear gas at Baghdad protesters

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi police fired live shots into the air as well as rubber bullets and dozens of tear gas canisters yesterday to disperse thousands of protesters on the streets of Baghdad, sending

young demonstrators running for cover and enveloping a main bridge in the capital with thick white smoke.

Over 60 people were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties, according to hospital officials. The confrontations began early in the morning after anti-government demonstrations resumed, following a three-week hiatus.

The protests began October 1 over corruption, unemployment and lack of basic services but quickly turned deadly as security forces cracked down, using live ammunition for days.

The protests then spread to several, mainly Shiite-populated southern provinces and authorities imposed a curfew and shut down the Internet for days in an effort to quell the unrest.

After a week of violence in the capital and the country’s southern provinces, a government-appointed inquiry into the protests determined that security forces had used excessive force, killing 149 people and wounding over 3,000.

Eight members of the security forces were also killed. The protests, unprecedented in their scale, threatened to plunge Iraq into a new cycle of instability that potentially could be the most dangerous this conflict-scarred nation has faced, barely two years after declaring victory over the Islamic State (IS) group.

Subsequently, Iraqi security forces and government officials vowed to avoid further deadly violence and deployed heavily on the streets of Baghdad in anticipation of yesterday’s protests.

The current round of protests has been endorsed by Iraq’s nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

He has called on the government to resign and suspended his bloc’s participation in the government until it comes up with a reform programme.

However, militias have stood by the government and suggested the demonstrations were a “conspiracy” from the outside.

As in the protests earlier this month, the protesters, organised on social media, started from the central Tahrir Square.

The demonstrators, mostly young, unemployed men, carried Iraqi flags and chanted anti-government protests, demanding jobs, water and electricity.