Anti-gov't protests escalate in Iraq over slow pace of reform

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BAGHDAD, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of angry Iraqi youths intensified their protests on Sunday due to the slow pace of comprehensive reform in the political process demanded by the demonstrators.

During the day, hundreds of demonstrators rallied in the squares of Tayran and Wathba near al-Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Iraq's anti-government protests, and set fire to dozens of tires to block the main roads leading to the rally sites, an Interior Ministry official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Sporadic clashes occurred with riot police during the day when dozens of demonstrators burned tires to cut off a highway named Mohammed al-Qassim, that links the downtown of the capital Baghdad to several neighborhoods in the east of the capital, the official said.

The riot police fired tear gas canisters and bullets in the air to disperse the protesters, leaving a protester killed and some 30 others injured and suffocated, according to the official.

In southern Baghdad, demonstrations flared in the provinces of Babil, Najaf, Karbala, Dhi Qar, Diwaniyah, Wasit, Maysan and Basra, as protesters blocked the main roads and closed many of the government institutions, according to local media reports.

On Jan. 13, demonstrators in Nasriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar province, and other Iraqi cities announced a period of one week for the political blocs to form a new government to replace the government of caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, otherwise the protesters would totally block main roads across Iraq and close the government institutions.

Mass anti-government demonstrations have continued in Baghdad and other cities in central and southern Iraq since early October, demanding comprehensive reform, fight against corruption, better public services and more job opportunities. Enditem

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