Protesters face live fire after Iraq partially lifts coronavirus lockdown

Protesters face live fire after Iraq partially lifts coronavirus lockdown
A few demonstrators have remained in the epicentre of Iraq's protest movement, Tahrir Square, where on Tuesday they were shot at by unidentified gunmen.
3 min read
22 April, 2020
At least 10 were injured in the renewed clashes [Getty]
Protesters in central Baghdad were faced with live fire on Tuesday evening just hours after Iraqi authorities eased coronavirus lockdown measures.

At least ten people were shot when unidentified gunmen wearing civilian clothes attacked demonstrators, medical and human rights sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site. Iraqi media reports indicated that one protester died after being shot but the reports could not be confirmed.

Gunmen arrived near Baghdad's central Tahrir Square in four-wheel-drive trucks without registration plates, security sources said.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrators have continued to gather in the square, the epicentre of Iraq's mass protest movement that erupted in October last year.

As the Covid-19 outbreak hit Iraq, dedicated anti-government protesters have occupied a months-old camp in Tahrir Square on a rotating basis in order to prevent security forces from using the pandemic to put an end to the demonstrations.

At least 10 demonstrators were transported to a hospital using the tuk-tuks that became a symbol of the protest movement last year.

One protester at the square told Rudaw English that the gunmen had come "from the direction of Khilani Square with AK-47s and knives".

The attackers were "supporters of political parties who push to end the protests against the government and political parties in Iraq", another demonstrator said.
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In a statement released through state media, the Baghdad Operation Command said the clashes came about after a verbal dispute between demonstrators and a shop owner in the area.

"The shop owner's relatives, armed with three AK-47 rifles, arrived and headed from Khilani Square near Tahrir Square tunnel, and opened fire at the protesters stationed in Tahrir Square," the statement said.

Legal procedures "against all troublemakers" were underway, it added.

Since the anti-government protests began on 1 October last year, around 550 people have been killed and 30,000 others injured as protesters faced military-grade tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and live rounds.

Night and weekend curfew to remain in place

On Tuesday, authorities partially scaled back a 24-hour curfew imposed to contain the new coronavirus in a move to balance the restrictions for the month of Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The new curfew will be implemented mainly at night, from 7pm until 6am local time as of 21 April until 11 May.

A total ban on movement will however stay in place on Fridays and Saturdays.

Restrictions on gatherings of more than three people remain in place while restaurants and cafes will be permitted to provide delivery services only.

Schools, universities, sport venues, malls and places of worship will remain closed nationwide.

International travel in and out of the country as well as between provinces also remains suspended.

Iraq has confirmed more than 1,600 coronavirus cases, including 83 fatalities.

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