Iraqi protester killed amid fresh clashes on Baghdad bridge
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Iraqi protester killed amid fresh clashes on Baghdad bridge

At least 32 others wounded in violent clashes with security forces; 2 Katyusha rockets fall in the vicinity of the Green Zone

People walk through Khilani Square after protesters took control and reopened it after clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government demonstrators in Baghdad, Iraq, November 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
People walk through Khilani Square after protesters took control and reopened it after clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government demonstrators in Baghdad, Iraq, November 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD (AP) — An anti-government protester in Iraq was killed Sunday by a direct hit to the head from a tear gas cannister amid fresh clashes on a strategic Baghdad bridge, security and medical officials said.

At least 32 others were wounded in violent clashes with security forces, just hours after protesters retook control of half of Ahrar Bridge. The protesters now hold three bridges spanning the Tigris River toward the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Security forces had deployed Sunday on the other side of the bridge and erected concrete barriers to keep protesters from pushing into Green Zone.

Two Katyusha rockets also fell in the vicinity of the Green Zone on Sunday, but caused no casualties. One hit the Tigris River and the other fell on an empty soccer stadium, security officials said. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Elsewhere in parts of central and southern Iraq, protesters blocked roads with burning tires, halting traffic and paralyzing work following a call for a national strike.

Since the protests began October 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in the capital and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Protesters have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services despite the country’s oil wealth.

The leaderless, mass protests aim to sweep aside Iraq’s political elite, blamed for massive corruption.

Anti-government protesters gather near the Sinak bridge leading to the Green Zone government areas during ongoing protests, in Baghdad, Iraq, November 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Bridges leading toward the Green Zone have been a frequent flashpoint in the protests. Demonstrators took control of those bridges earlier this month, but were later repelled when security forces took harsh suppressive measures.

The protesters managed to push back onto part of Ahrar Bridge on Sunday, after seizing part of Sinak Bridge and central Khilani Square the previous day following fierce clashes. They were also present in Jumhouriyya Bridge adjacent to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement.

Iraqi security forces withdrew from Khilani Square after firing live ammunition and tear gas against protesters trying to tear down a concrete barrier blocking entry to the square.

Protesters also took control of a five-story parking garage adjacent to the bridge, giving them a bird’s eye view over the Green Zone and the street below, mirroring tactics employed in Tahrir Square, where they occupied an iconic 14-story Saddam Hussein-era building that has become a reference point for demonstrators.

Two people were wounded when security forces fired tear gas canisters in renewed confrontations on Baghdad’s famous Rasheed Street, its oldest avenue and cultural center known for its crumbling houses.

In the southern port city of Basra and in cities like Nasiriyah, Amara and Kut, protesters set tires ablaze to close off roads, keeping employees from reaching their work places. Schools, universities and other institutions closed for the day.

Protesters celebrate while taking control of some concrete walls and barriers installed by security forces to close Sinak bridge leading to the Green Zone government areas, during clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government demonstrators in Baghdad, Iraq, November 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

In parts of Baghdad, particularly the sprawling Sadr City neighborhood, protesters sat in the middle of the streets to prevent employees from getting to their workplaces. They also blocked roads with motorcycles and tuk-tuks, snarling traffic.

“There will be no offices open until the last corrupt person is removed,” one protester said, declining to be identified for security reasons. “Only then we will pull out from here.”

The roadblocks are partly in response to a call by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for a voluntary strike to keep up the pressure on politicians.

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