Iraq PM imposes curfew in Baghdad after of days deadly protests

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Protesters gather on a street in Baghdad, Iraq, on Oct. 2, 2019. Demonstrations took place on Wednesday in Baghdad and other provinces as protesters rallied outside government buildings before they broke into some of them. The troubling situation comes on the second day of protests against corruption, lack of basic services and insufficient jobs. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)

BAGHDAD (AFP) – An indefinite curfew came into effect early Thursday in Iraq’s capital after two days of chaotic protests across the country that descended into violence and left 18 dead.

Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi ordered the ban on movements across Baghdad starting at 5:00 am local time (0200 GMT) to stem the popular demonstrations over widespread unemployment and state corruption.

Early Thursday, some cars and civilians were seen in the capital’s streets, an AFP photographer said, but residents are wary that more protests could erupt after firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for “a general strike”.

The tension has been exacerbated by a near-total internet shutdown, the closure of government offices and at least one overnight explosion that hit the Green Zone, where some ministries and embassies are located.

A security source inside the area told AFP there were two blasts, likely caused by indirect fire a little over a week after two rockets hit near the US embassy there.

The apparent attack came hours after security forces sealed off the Green Zone “until further notice”, fearing angry protesters would swarm state buildings or foreign missions.

Since erupting in Baghdad on Tuesday, the protests have spread to other cities in the country’s south.

Riot police in the capital have used water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds in an attempt to disperse protesters from the central Tahrir Square and other areas.

Into Wednesday night, marches from different parts of Baghdad tried to converge on Tahrir.

But with internet access virtually shut, demonstrators have struggled to communicate with each other or post footage of the latest clashes.

In the holy city of Najaf and in Nasiriyah further south on Wednesday, security forces fired on protesters and curfews were also declared.

18 people including a police officer have so far been killed, most of them in Nasiriyah, and more than 600 people have been wounded, according to health authorities.

The protests appear to be largely spontaneous so far, with angry crowds carrying Iraqi flags and shunning any involvement by the country’s main political players.

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