Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Iraq Activists Storm Public Offices in Kut

Iraq activists storm public offices

At least one person killed in clashes with security forces after protesters break into council building

Last Modified: 16 Feb 2011 13:50 GMT

Thousands of protesters marched in Kut to demand better services before storming the council building

At least one person has been killed and dozens wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters in a southern Iraqi province, after around 2,000 people attacked government offices in protest over poor services.

Protesters took threw rocks and took over a provincial council building in Kut, Wasit province, about 160km southeast of Baghdad on Wednesday, officials said. Three government buildings were set on fire, including the governor's official residence.

One person was shot dead after private security guards fired into the crowd, the AFP news agency reported, while Reuters put the death toll at three and said up to 30 had been wounded.

"We have received one dead body and are treating 27 wounded," Majid Mohammed Hassan from Kut hospital's administrative unit told AFP.

He said the person killed was a 16-year-old boy who suffered a bullet to the chest.

Punishment pledged

Officials said policemen and soldiers fired their weapons into the air in a bid to dissuade protesters, while private security guards employed by Wasit council opened fire directly into the crowd.

"Those were private guards, only they fired at the protesters. They were outside the law," police Brigadier General Hussein Jassim told AFP. "Our forces only fired into the air."

Major Mohammed Saleh, the senior police intelligence officer in Kut, said: "Measures will be taken against the private guards but after the situation has calmed down."

Demonstrators are demanding Latif Hamad al-Tarfa, the provincial governor, resign over poor basic services such as electricity and water.

They held up placards that said, "To all citizens: Electricity is only for officials", a reference to Iraq's dramatic shortfall in power provision.

"We demand that our rights be met, that we have better services and that the authorities fight corruption," Ali Mohsen, a 54-year-old professor at Wasit university, said.

"We demand that the governor resign ... all we need is services."

An official told Al Jazeera that protesters were enraged by comments by al-Tarfa belittling demonstrators at a much smaller protest a week ago.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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