Protesters in Green Zone, Iraq PM calls for punishment of rioters

AFP , Sunday 1 May 2016

Supporters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather in the courtyard of celebrations after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" on April 30, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

Thousands of protesters were inside Baghdad's Green Zone Sunday after breaking into the fortified area and storming the parliament, as Iraq's premier called for rioters to be pursued and punished.

Protesters pulled down or scaled slabs of heavy concrete blast wall to enter the fortified area where Iraq's main government institutions are located, the culmination of weeks of political turmoil and inaction by parliament.

While there is still the potential for escalation, the situation was calm on Sunday, with protesters touring the area and taking photos of places they have rarely if ever been able to access.

"This is the first time I've been here since I came with my school under Saddam (Hussein)," said 32-year-old Yusef al-Assadi, who took a "selfie" in front of the unknown soldier's monument.

"It's one of the most beautiful places to be in Baghdad. It should be for everyone, yet the people were not allowed here," he said.

Assadi said it was striking "how rich this place is. Here, there is air conditioning and electricity everywhere, but the people of Iraq suffer from power cuts all the time."

Many Iraqi politicians live in luxury, while most average citizens make do with abysmal services that include only a few hours of government-provided electricity per day at the height of summer.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office said he had ordered that rioters be pursued, but security forces were not taking action against those inside the Green Zone on Sunday.

Abadi "directed the interior minister to pursue the elements who attacked the security forces and citizens and members of parliament and vandalised state properties and to refer them to the judiciary to receive their just punishment," a statement said.

Protesters attacked at least one MP as well as cars they believed belonged to lawmakers on Saturday, and broke into offices in parliament.

But others sought to contain the destruction, and many were content to take photographs of themselves in parliament, with some sitting in seats usually occupied by lawmakers.

The protesters broke into the Green Zone on Saturday afternoon after MPs again failed to approve new cabinet ministers to replace the current party-affiliated cabinet.

Many of the demonstrators were supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and members of his Saraya al-Salam militia group deployed around parliament on Saturday night.

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