Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hundreds protest in Iraq, TV station torched

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Gunmen raided and set fire to a television station in northern Iraq on Sunday, shutting down broadcasts of protests inspired by unrest around the Arab world, station and government officials said.
Iraqi Kurds gather near burnt tires during a demonstration in Sulaimaniya, 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, February 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Stringer)
At least four people were wounded in the city of Sulaimaniya as hundreds of protesters took to the streets. Rallies seeking better public services, the ouster of local officials and other demands also took place in Falluja and other locations.
In Baghdad, the cabinet decided to have ministers visit demonstrators to soothe anger over corruption, shortages of food and electricity and other issues behind a series of protests that have triggered skirmishes with security forces.
Unlike their regional counterparts, Iraqi protesters generally have not been calling for the removal of their elected government, installed just two months ago after months of tense negotiations between political factions. Dictator Saddam Hussein was swept away by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The overnight raid on NRT satellite channel in Sulaimaniya was carried out by 50 masked gunmen wearing security force uniforms who sprayed the station with gunfire, smashed equipment, wounded a guard and lit fires, Twana Othman, the station's manager, said.
NRT aired coverage of violent protests in Sulaimaniya last week.
Bahrouz Mohammed, the local governor, condemned the attack and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Those saboteurs who attacked the TV station are trying undermine stability in Sulaimaniya," he said in a statement.
In central Sulaimaniya, a police official said security forces fired in the air when demonstrators chanting against corruption tried to approach the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, where clashes on Thursday killed two people and wounded dozens.
"We can't prevent people from demonstrating but we will not allow them to sabotage public properties," the official said.
Hazar Hasan, head of a hospital in Sulaimaniya, said the facility received four wounded from the rally.
In the western city of Falluja, about 300 protesters demanded the firing of the governor and provincial council members in Anbar province. Dozens of people rallied for jobs in the southern province of Nassiriya, Abdul Hadi Mohan, deputy head of the provincial council, said.
The cabinet decision to reach out to protesters underscored politicians' concerns over growing unrest.
"The general secretary of the council of ministers has called for immediate action to improve the food ration card system and to work on reforming the social benefits system," said a statement issued by the cabinet's media office.
"The finance minister has been ordered to request parliament to start launching job opportunities to reduce unemployment."
In recent days Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has moved to soothe anger by cutting his pay, reducing electricity bills, buying more sugar for the national food ration programme and diverting money from fighter jets to food. [ID:nLDE71G1MY]
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Fadhel al-Badrani in Falluja and Aref Mohammed in Basra; Writing by Jim Loney and Serena Chaudhry; editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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