Baghdad/Tripoli, Feb 25 (IANS) Protests in Iraq dramatically escalated with nine people demanding reforms and an end to corruption dying in clashes Friday as the killing spree continued in Libya with Muammar Gaddafi unleashing state forces to suppress the uprising against him.
A month after the people’s movement began in Egypt on Jan 25, there was no let up in the anti-government protests that have broken out across the Arab world. Thousands gathered in Egypt’s Tahrir (liberation in Arabic) Square as well as in Baghdad’s square of the same name.
In the Jordan capital Amman as well as in Yemen’s Sana’a, there were protests after Friday prayers. Similar protests were planned in the Libyan capital Tripoli’s Green Square.
In Libya, which has been witnessing intense protests since Feb 14, at least 17 people were killed when pro-Gaddafi forces attacked demonstrators in Al Zawiya not far from capital Tripoli. And in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the creation of a special committee to start dialogue with opposition leaders to calm the situation.
At least nine Iraqis were killed Friday – being observed as ‘Day of Rage’ to commemorate one month of the Egypt uprising – in protests as thousands of people demanded economic reforms, better social services, more employment opportunities and an end to corruption, DPA reported.
The unrest spread to other cities too.
In Mosul city, five protesters were killed and dozens injured when security forces fired at people. Witnesses said some protesters were trying to break into a local government building.
Four people were also killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in Haweija town, a police official said. Some 2,000 protesters gathered in Haweija Friday morning and set fire to the provincial council building.
In Basra, up to 4,000 people staged a protest early Friday and sought the dismissal of the governor as they accused him of corruption. Within hours, Governor Sheltag Abboud announced his resignation.
While Iraq burnt, Libya continued to be on the edge as people intensified their protests to oust Gaddafi who has ruled the country ever since he took over in a bloodless coup in 1969.
Six pro-government troops who were captured by Al Zawiya residents admitted that they had been told the city was being run by Arab militants and it was their job to liberate it, said a team of doctors who did not wish to be identified.
The captured soldiers said that they had been misled so that they would fight against their countrymen, CNN quoted the doctors as saying.
Gaddafi, who accused the Al Qaeda of brainwashing the youth, expressed condolences towards the families of the dead and injured in Al Zawiya.
“These are our children,” he was quoted as saying. “We are quite upset about the senseless loss of lives.”
Gaddafi said Libya has peaceful ways for its citizens to address their grievances.
“We are not like Egypt or Tunisia,” he said, referring to the two countries that have ousted their leaders in recent weeks.
“Here, the authority is in the hands of the people. You can change your authority, just make committees. And if you think they are corrupt, take them to court. Prosecute them,” he added.
People were unimpressed and anti-government protesters were gearing up to hold a series of mass demonstrations Friday, according to opposition group websites.
The Libyan protest movement has caused Gaddafi’s government to lose control of much of the eastern part of the country, AKI reported.
The protests against Gaddafi’s 41-year rule began after mass demonstrations forced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power Feb 11, and one month after demonstrators across the border in Tunisia toppled their longtime leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Other countries in the Arab world made efforts to quell the protests.
In Yemen, President Saleh ordered the creation of a special committee to start dialogue with opposition leaders. Protesters in Yemen are demanding the resignation of the US-backed president who has been in power for 32 years.
Yemen has been hit by the wave of unrest that has swept through the Arab world, toppling authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and stoking mass popular uprisings in Libya and Bahrain.