Six people were killed in near-simultaneous blasts across Iraq’s capital late Tuesday, medics and a security source said, amid deadly anti-government protests that have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south for weeks.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the three explosions, which were the first such violence in the capital after months of relative calm.
The blasts were caused by two explosives-laden motorcycles and a roadside bomb and hit three Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, according to medical and security sources.
Around a dozen people were wounded and taken to Baghdad hospitals already treating scores of demonstrators hurt earlier in the day in protests.
Rallies demanding deep-rooted regime change erupted in early October across Baghdad and southern Iraq, leaving more than 350 people dead and around 15,000 wounded.
In the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Tuesday, one person was killed as protests escalated into chaotic “clashes” with security forces, a medical source told AFP.
There were no immediate details about the victim’s identity or cause of death, but the medic said the toll was likely to rise further.
AFP’s correspondent saw riot police fire live rounds both into the air and directly at crowds of teenage protesters with at least one demonstrator suffering a bullet wound to the head.
In one face-off under a bridge, teenagers threw rocks at riot police trucks, bursting into song when the vehicles screeched away.
Clashes also erupted in Baghdad, where security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas to keep demonstrators away from Al-Ahrar bridge, which leads to government buildings on the west bank of the river Tigris.
One protester died after being shot by a rubber bullet and 18 were wounded, a medical source said.
A body bearing a rubber bullet wound was also found underneath Al-Ahrar on Tuesday, but it was unclear when the person had died, the medic said.
‘No family, no home’
The historic districts near Al-Ahrar have morphed into arenas for daily street battles.
Demonstrators — mostly teenagers who have been there for days or weeks — throw rocks from behind makeshift barricades at security forces firing tear gas, rubber bullets, live rounds and even machinegun fire.
“We won’t leave unless it’s in coffins,” one protester told AFP.
“Either way, I’ve got no job, no money, so whether I stay here or go home, it’s all the same,” said another.
An Iraqi tricolour tied around his shoulders, he went on bitterly: “I’ll never be able to get married without work or a salary, so I’ve got no family and no home anyway.”
Smoke bombs exploded all around the protesters, filling the colonnaded streets with puffs of orange, green and purple.
In the south, protesters burned tyres along highways outside the city of Diwaniyah, blockading bridges and one of the province’s three power stations.
In the city itself, massive crowds marched through the streets, tearing down posters of politicians and beating them with shoes to insult them.
“It’s been two months, we’re sick of your promises,” they chanted.
Schools and public buildings have been shut in Diwaniyah for the past month by strikes and road closures, but skirmishes with riot police have been rare.
In nearby Hillah, usually peaceful sit-ins took a violent turn overnight when security forces fired tear gas grenades at protesters, wounding around 60, medics said.
Demonstrators and security forces in Karbala lobbed Molotov cocktails at each another.
Night-time skirmishes have become routine in the city.
Glimpses of looming crisis
In Dhi Qar, arterial routes linking key cities and the three oilfields of Garraf, Nasiriyah and Subba were shut.
Clashes with police guarding the fields wounded 13 officers.
Together, the three oilfields produce around 200,000 of Iraq’s roughly 3.6 million barrels a day.
Iraq is ranked OPEC’s second-biggest crude producer and, according to Transparency International, the world’s 12th most corrupt country.
The turmoil since the start of October has not significantly impacted oil production or exports, which fund virtually the entire state budget.
Iraq’s cabinet is currently discussing the 2020 budget before it is submitted to parliament, and government sources say it is expected to be one of the largest yet.
That is mostly because of the enormous public sector, which has ballooned in recent years as the government has hired tens of thousands of new graduates in a country with a severely under-developed private sector.
But experts say that model is unsustainable for a country of nearly 40 million people, set to grow by another 10 million in the next decade.
Public anger over a lack of jobs fuelled the latest grassroots protests, Iraq’s most widespread and deadly in decades.
One in five people lives below the poverty line and youth unemployment hovers at a staggering 25 percent, the World Bank says.
Officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) have dispersed protesters who stormed the headquarters of the service over the continued detention of the convener of the #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore.
The protesters had stormed the DSS office on Tuesday morning but were met with resistance by the officials who then started shooting sporadically to disperse them.
Catalan separatist activists blocked traffic on Monday on a motorway linking Spain and France, in a fresh protest against the sentencing last month of nine of their leaders to lengthy jail terms.
Demonstrators cut the AP7 motorway at La Jonquera near the city of Girona in eastern Spain, a day after a repeat general election in which Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist emerged as winners but weakened, while far-right party Vox surged to third place on the back of its hardline stance against separatism.
Dozens of vehicles blocked the motorway near the border with France while some 300 people set up a barricade, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
Some demonstrators began to set up a stage and speakers which they brought to the scene in vans.
Catalonia’s regional road department confirmed the motorway was cut in both directions at La Jonquera.
The protest was called by a new, mysterious organisation called “Democratic Tsunami” which last month sent thousands of people to block access to Barcelona airport in a protest which ended in clashes between demonstrators and police.
“This mobilisation is a cry to the international community so that it makes the Spanish state understand that the only possible path is to sit down and talk,” the group said in a message sent to its followers on encrypted messaging service Telegram.
Radical separatist group CDR also called on its supporters to head to La Jonquera to block the highway.
Catalonia was rocked by days of mass, sometimes violent, pro-independence rallies after Spain’s Supreme Court on October 14 sentenced nine politicians and activists to jail for up to 13 years for their role in a failed secession bid in 2017.
Demonstrators have frequently cut road and rail links between Spain and France while many shops in downtown Barcelona have been shut during the rallies and there are growing concerns about the impact of the unrest on business in Spain’s second-largest city.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers packed into a park Saturday night to mourn a student who died during recent clashes as police arrested a group of pro-democracy lawmakers, deepening the city’s political crisis.
The international finance hub has been upended by five months of huge and increasingly violent pro-democracy protests, but Beijing has refused to give in to most of the movement’s demands.
Tensions have soared since the death on Friday of Alex Chow, 22, who succumbed to head injuries sustained during a fall as police skirmished with demonstrators inside a car park last weekend.
The huge rally — one of the few in recent months to obtain police approval — means Hong Kong has witnessed 24 weekends of protest in what has become the most profound challenge to Beijing’s rule since the 1997 handover.
Many at the peaceful and sombre rally wore black.
“I want an independent inquiry because that proves Hong Kong is still a place with rule of law,” a 35-year-old woman, who gave her surname Wong, told AFP, echoing the movement’s core demand for an investigation into police tactics.
Wong, who said she moved to Hong Kong from the mainland three years ago, said she also wanted to see less confrontational tactics from hardcore protesters.
“I think non-violent ways can also win,” she said.
The rally came after police brought charges against at least seven lawmakers who now face up to a year in jail if convicted.
Three were arrested overnight, three attended appointments on Saturday evening to be booked, and one refused to appear.
The charges relate to chaotic scenes that broke out within a legislative committee in May as pro-democracy lawmakers tried to stop a controversial bill being discussed that would allow extraditions to authoritarian mainland China.
At the time, city leader Carrie Lam was fast-tracking the bill through the legislature, a move that ignited record-breaking street protests in which millions marched.
“The protests that have been going on for five months are yet to finish but the government is already launching massive arrests of pro-democracy legislators in collaboration with the police,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Hong Kong’s legislature is quasi-democratic, with half the seats popularly elected and the rest chosen by largely pro-Beijing committees, ensuring the chamber remains stacked with government loyalists.
Opposition to the government comes in the form of a small band of pro-democracy lawmakers who win their seats in local elections.
The lack of fully free elections — and especially the fact that the city’s leader is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee — has fuelled years of protests that have culminated in the latest unrest.
Chow’s death has only intensified the tinderbox atmosphere in what has become a deeply polarised city, with violence escalating on both sides of the ideological divide.
Although the precise chain of events leading to his fall is unclear and disputed, protesters have made alleged police brutality one of their movement’s rallying cries and have seized on the death.
Police have repeatedly denied any allegations of wrongdoing in relation to Chow’s death.
Vigils on Friday night saw large crowds and frequent clashes with police in multiple neighbourhoods, including one officer firing a live warning shot.
Upcoming Local Elections
The city is holding district council elections on 24 November with the pro-Beijing camp bracing for heavy defeats.
Since this summer’s pro-democracy protests kicked off, voter registration has soared and the pro-democracy camp is fielding candidates in every constituency for the first time.
But there are also concerns the elections could be called off given the spiralling violence.
On Wednesday, one of the city’s most stridently pro-Beijing politicians was wounded in a knife attack by a man who pretended to be a supporter.
That assault came three days after a Mandarin-speaking man shouting pro-Beijing slogans knifed at least three pro-democracy protesters and bit off the ear of a local district councillor.
Pro-democracy lawmakers called for demonstrators not to give the government an excuse to cancel the elections because of the violence.
“The district council election is a de facto referendum, in which all Hong Kong people can respond to the social problems, the unjust governance and the police brutality triggered by the extradition bill,” lawmaker Tanya Chan said on Saturday.
But further unrest seems likely given that the protest movement is largely organised online by activists who favour confrontations with the police who are themselves responding with increasingly hardcore tactics as each month passes.
Activists have vowed to hit the streets again on Sunday and hold a general strike on Monday.
Violence in Ethiopia that began with protests against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and quickly morphed into ethnic clashes has left 67 people dead in Oromia state, a police official said Friday.
The spike in the death toll came as the high-profile activist at the centre of the violence accused Abiy, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, of acting like a dictator and suggesting he might challenge him in elections planned for next year.
“The total number dead in Oromia is 67,” said Kefyalew Tefera, the regional police chief, adding that five of the dead were police officers.
Violence erupted in Addis Ababa, the capital, and in much of Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Wednesday after the activist, Jawar Mohammed, accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him — a claim police officials denied.
Kefyalew told AFP that the violence had ended in Oromia but Amnesty International researcher Fisseha Tekle said late Friday that he was still receiving reports of attacks.
The defence ministry said Friday that it was deploying forces to seven hotspots to restore order, according to the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.
Jawar is credited with promoting protests that swept Abiy to power last year but he has recently become critical of some of the premier’s policies.
In an interview at his residence in Addis Ababa, Jawar told AFP that Abiy — named Nobel Peace laureate two weeks ago — seemed to be taking Ethiopia back to “the old ways” of authoritarian rule.
“He has resorted to the early signs of dictatorship, of trying to intimidate people, even his very close allies who helped him come to power who happen to disagree with some of the policies and positions and ideologies he’s advocating,” Jawar said.
“Intimidation is the start of authoritarian rule.”
Both men are members of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.
Their feud highlights divisions within Abiy’s Oromo support base that could complicate his bid for a five-year term when Ethiopia votes in elections currently planned for May 2020.
Jawar said that running against Abiy was “one possibility,” though he also said he could be convinced to back Abiy if he changes course.
“I want to have an active role in the coming election. In what capacity I’m not sure but I want to make sure that the influence I have in the country has a positive contribution,” he said.
Religious, ethnic conflict
After two days of violent protests, tensions had cooled Friday in Addis Ababa, although the total damage inflicted by the unrest was still being tallied.
Fisseha of AI said the violence had included instances of security forces opening fire on protesters but was increasingly taking the form of ethnic and religious clashes.
“Some people have lost their lives with sticks, with machetes, some houses have been burned. People have been using even bullets and light arms to kill each other, to fight each other,” he said.
At least six people were killed in the town of Ambo, west of Addis, after security forces opened fire on protesters, Fisseha said.
Ethnic and religious violence has been reported in the towns and cities of Dodola, Harar, Balerobe and Adama.
Property belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which some associate with the Amhara ethnic group, has been targeted in several locations, Fisseha said.
Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, urged public figures to tamp down virulent rhetoric that could contribute to additional unrest.
“It is extremely depressing that public officials and community leaders don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions and words leading to this senseless loss of lives, destruction of property and disruption of ordinary life,” he said.
“As security forces are struggling to calm the crisis, everyone has a responsibility to do their share and cooperate.”
A four-year-old child was killed during the latest round of protests in Chile, raising the death toll from five days of social unrest to 18, a top Chilean security official said Wednesday.
The child and an adult man were killed Tuesday when a drunk driver rammed into a crowd of protesters, Interior Undersecretary Rodrigo Ubilla said. A third person died from injuries sustained in a beating by police, according to the victim’s family.
The death toll from week-long anti-government protests that erupted in Baghdad and southern Iraq at the start of October totalled 157, an official inquiry announced Tuesday, ahead of further demonstrations.
It also said commanders from across the security forces had been dismissed in the wake of the violence, including from the army, police, anti-terror, anti-riot, anti-crime, intelligence and national security units.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, in a report of its own, said that “serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed” and excessive force used against demonstrators.
“Attacks against media outlets and the blocking of internet/social media seem to have been used as tools to deter participation in the demonstrations as well as to repress reporting and activism,” the UN mission said.
UNAMI called for “concrete steps to prevent violence and enable future peaceful demonstrations” and stressed “the critical importance of seeking accountability for perpetrators”.
The official inquiry found that 111 of the dead, nearly all of them protesters, had been killed in Baghdad.
Around 70 percent of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds “to the head or chest”, according to the findings, published as Iraq braces for fresh protests on Friday.
The official toll included 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces killed between October 1 and 6, during protests in the capital and across mainly Shiite southern provinces.
Four security personnel were killed in Baghdad, where clashes initially centred around the iconic Tahrir Square after protesters rallied to demand jobs, services and an end to corruption.
Later unrest in the capital sparked a bloody night of violence in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.
Authorities formed a commission of inquiry to investigate, after initially only acknowledging security forces used excessive force in a few instances.
In its report, the inquiry blamed some deaths on security forces, but also mentioned other “shooters”, without identifying them.
From the start, authorities accused “unidentified snipers” posted on rooftops overlooking protesters and security forces for deaths.
‘Disobedience’ by security forces
The commanders dismissed in the aftermath of the deadly clashes were stationed in Baghdad and six provinces south of the capital.
Their dismissal must be confirmed by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who faces public pressure ahead of the first anniversary of his cabinet on Friday.
Human rights groups and Iraqis able to post on social media, inaccessible without a virtual private network (VPN), accuse security forces of responsibility for protester deaths: either by firing themselves or by failing to protect demonstrators from snipers.
Former premier Haider al-Abadi, now in opposition, condemned the findings of the official inquiry.
“This report points to disobedience by military and security officials who decided to open fire contrary to their orders,” he said in a statement. “But it does not explain how the ‘disobedience’ lasted several days without the higher levels of leadership taking control.”
Protests shook Iraq for six days from October 1, with young Iraqis initially denouncing corruption and demanding jobs and services before calling for the downfall of the government.
Parliament, which has been deeply divided over the protest movement, is to meet Saturday to discuss the demonstrators’ demands.
Chile’s death toll has risen to 11, authorities said on Monday, after three days of violent demonstrations and looting that saw President Sebastian Pinera claim the country was “at war.”
Almost 1,500 people were detained in the worst outbreak of social unrest in decades while the capital Santiago was placed under curfew for two nights running.
“We are at war against a powerful, implacable enemy, who does not respect anything or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits,” Pinera told reporters on Sunday after an emergency meeting with army general Javier Iturriaga, who has been placed in charge of order and security in the capital.
Karla Rubilar, the governor of the Santiago region, said eight people had died on Sunday and three on Saturday — all in the Santiago metropolitan area.
Santiago and nine more of Chile’s 16 regions were under a state of emergency, Pinera confirmed late on Sunday, with troops deployed onto the streets for the first time since Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship between 1973-1990.
The clashes, which have seen some 9,500 police and military fire tear gas and water cannon against protesters who have set fire to buses, smashed up metro stations and ransacked shops, were initially sparked by anger over metro fare hikes and wider social inequality.
Long queues formed at shops, service stations and bus stops while the Santiago metro service, suspended on Friday as protesters burned and vandalized stations, was partially running again on Monday as some people returned to work.
In Santiago, many employers canceled the working day, while most schools and universities remained closed.
Iturriaga told reporters the capital was “peaceful and calm,” adding that 17 supermarkets were open as well as service stations and pharmacies.
He took a different line to the president, though, and added: “I feel happy, I’m not at war with anyone.”
Soldiers, though, patrolled outside metro stations and military vehicles were parked in streets near the presidential palace as tensions remained high.
Anger boiled over
Despite a growth rate that should reach 2.5 percent of GDP this year, several social indicators — such as health, education and pensions — show very high inequalities.
Anger boiled over earlier in the week as a protest against a rise in metro fares escalated dramatically on Friday.
“You could see this coming. The government hasn’t done anything. It’s not just the metro fare that triggered this and ended in vandalism,” sandwich seller Carlos Lucero, 30, told AFP.
He said the government needed to take concrete measures “to improve salaries, health, pensions.”
On Sunday, five people died when a garment factory was torched by rioters in a Santiago suburb, despite right-wing Pinera’s Saturday announcement that he was suspending the fare increase.
Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said two women burned to death after a store owned by US retail chain Walmart was set alight in the early hours of Sunday.
Almost all public transport was paralyzed in Santiago on Sunday, with shops shuttered and many flights canceled at the international airport, leaving thousands of people stranded due to a curfew imposed from 7:00 pm until dawn.
‘Listen to the people’
Authorities reported 103 serious incidents throughout the country with 1,462 people detained — 614 in Santiago and 848 in the rest of the country.
In some neighborhoods, residents donned the yellow vests made popular by French protesters earlier this year, and wielded sticks vowing to protect their homes, local shops and supermarkets.
“There were some attempted robberies in this area so we got organized to defend ourselves,” Priscila, from eastern Santiago, told Canal 24 Horas.
Several international Chilean footballers have also asked leaders in their country to “listen to the people” and to find solutions.
“I pray that my beloved Chile will be better,” national team star and Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal wrote on Sunday night.
Among the buildings torched and damaged in the violence were the headquarters of the ENEL Chile power company and a Banco Chile branch — both in the center of Santiago — and Chile’s oldest newspaper, El Mercurio, in Valparaiso.
Social tensions erupt
Louis de Grange, president of the state Metro S.A. company, told Canal 13 the “brutal destruction” of Santiago’s metro service — South America’s largest and most modern, used by around three million people a day — had caused more than $300 million in damage.
The proposed hike in fares would have raised the price of peak hour travel from 800 to 830 pesos ($1.11 to $1.15).
The government said the rise, which followed a 20-peso increase in January, was driven by rising oil prices and a weakening peso.
Initially, students and others responded by fare-dodging, but underlying social tensions quickly bubbled to the surface.
Although Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000, there is widespread frustration at privatized health care and education, rising costs of basic services and falling pensions.