Iraqi security forces shot dead at least six anti-government protesters in Baghdad on Thursday and killed four others as they broke up a sit-in in the southern city of Basra, police and medical sources said.
Another 35 people were wounded in clashes near the capital city’s Shuhada Bridge as mass demonstrations continued for a 13th-straight day with thousands thronging the city centre.
The protesters were trying to remove barriers near two bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris River and provide access to the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies. Now all bridges leading to the Green Zone have been blocked by security forces.
Elsewhere in southern Iraq, dozens of protesters burned tyres and blocked the entrance to the port of Umm Qasr, preventing lorries from transporting food imports, just hours after operations had resumed, port officials said.
A crackdown by authorities against mostly unarmed protesters has killed more than 260 people since demonstrations began on Oct. 1 over lack of jobs, chronic power and clean water shortages, poor education and healthcare and corruption.
Protesters, mostly unemployed youths, blame a political elite that has ruled Iraq since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and demand a complete overhaul of the political system.
The economy is beginning to feel the pinch.
Internet outages imposed by the government to try to stem unrest have hit the private sector, a central bank source said.
The source said private banks in Iraq had recorded losses of some $16 million per day since the internet was first shut down at the beginning of October.
Combined losses by the private banks and mobile phone companies, money transfer services, tourism and airline booking offices had averaged more than $40 million per day, the source said – almost $1.5 billion for Iraq in just over a month.
Umm Qasr briefly resumed operations early on Thursday after most protesters cleared the area. But several dozen activists, relatives of a demonstrator killed during weeks of violence, then returned to block the main gate, port officials said.
Further, oil and security officials said operations resumed on Thursday at the nearby Nassiriya oil refinery, where protesters had stopped fuel tankers entering or leaving the day before.
Oil production and exports have not been significantly affected by the unrest, oil ministry officials say.
But the halting of fuel tankers that transport fuel from the Nassiriya refinery to regional gas stations caused fuel shortages across the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar. The refinery had recently been producing around half its capacity, oil officials said.
The government says it is enacting reforms but has offered nothing that is likely to satisfy most protesters.