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Iraqi cleric calls for parliamentary session on Basra clashes

Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters won the most seats in national elections held earlier this year.

Iraq’s popular Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for an urgent parliamentary session to discuss the situation in the southern city of Basra, where protests against poor public services and joblessness have turned violent.

Nine civilians have been killed since the start of the month in confrontations between demonstrators and police, according to Iraq’s Independent High Commission for Human Rights, which said another 93 civilians and 18 security forces were injured.

Authorities have imposed a curfew in the wake of the disorder.

In a televised speech, Mr al-Sadr called for the parliamentary session to be held no later than Sunday, and said the prime minister Haider al-Abadi and other officials should either attend the session or resign.

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A protester throws a Molotov cocktail during recent clashes in Basra (AP)

The populist cleric’s supporters won the most seats in national elections held earlier this year, but Iraq’s feuding factions have yet to form a new government.

A provincial official with state-run Iraqi Ports company said authorities have closed the vital Um Qasr port on the Persian Gulf since late Wednesday, fearing sabotage.

Brig Gen Saad Maan, the interior ministry spokesman, announced a curfew in Basra starting at 3pm on Thursday, citing “intelligence reports of possible attacks on government offices”.

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Protesters chant anti-government slogans (AP)

The government has said the protesters’ demands are legitimate, while blaming the violence on saboteurs.

Residents of Basra and other cities in Iraq’s southern Shia heartland have been protesting since July over endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services.

Clashes erupted earlier this week, leaving several civilians and police dead. Prime minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the violence.

Basra is Iraq’s second-largest province and home to about 70% of the OPEC member’s vast oil reserves.

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