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Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oilfields

By AFP - Nov 20,2019 - Last updated at Nov 20,2019

Iraqi anti-government protesters gather at a sit-in near barricades over Al Sinek bridge connecting the Iraqi capital Baghdad's Sinek district to the Salhiyeh district neighbouring the high-security Green Zone, which hosts government offices and foreign embassies, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD — Anti-government demonstrators in southern Iraq shut roads to two major ports and a key oilfield Wednesday, port officials and AFP correspondents said, leading to a brief operational halt.

Correspondent in oil-rich Basra province saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oilfield.

Trucks waiting to load up goods from the ports could be seen waiting empty behind crowds of demonstrators.

Khor Al Zubair is used for some heavy crude exports but also to import fuel products like benzene, while Umm Qasr is the main entry point for food and medicine into Iraq.

"Export and import activities have stopped because trucks cannot enter Khor Al Zubair or Umm Qasr ports," one official at Basra's port authority said.

A second official later said the route to Khor Al Zubair had been reopened but Umm Qasr remained shut.

Sit-ins have become a go-to tactic for Iraqis demonstrating against their government since early October.

Protesters have shut the road to Umm Qasr several times, causing a delay in offloading operations that on one occasion forced around a dozen ships to unload their cargo in another country.

Road closures have also impacted heavy crude from the Qayyarah field in northern Iraq from reaching Khor Al Zubair since earlier this month.

The prime minister's office has warned security forces "will not allow" protesters near key infrastructure, and riot police have forced roads open in deadly crackdowns.

More than 330 people have been killed since rallies erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across the south.

In the capital's main protest camp of Tahrir [Liberation] Square, thousands gathered Wednesday to express their ongoing frustration.

Top leaders and political parties have focused their efforts on hiring drives, more welfare and a new electoral law as immediate measures.

Parliament met late Tuesday to discuss a draft voting law that proposes downsizing the house from 329 seats to 251, shrinking districts and distributing votes according to a complex hybrid system.

But the United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the draft law needed more work.

“The draft electoral legislation ­— currently under review by the Council of Representatives — requires improvements to meet public demands,” it said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.

UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert urged lawmakers to pass legislation that “will reflect the public appetite for a new and different way of conducting politics”.

Protesters have so far been unimpressed by the government’s proposals and large crowds — most of them students — turned out on Wednesday.

“Last night’s session serves their own interests, not those of the people,” said Younes, a 28-year-old protester.

Crowds have spilled over from Tahrir onto three main bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris, where key government buildings and embassies are based.

On Tuesday night, they tried to cross two of the bridges to reach the so-called Green Zone but security forces deployed on the bridges fired tear gas to keep them back, a security source told AFP.

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