AFP: Dozens of Iraqis violently protested in the southern city of Nasiriyah to demand better power supplies, wounding 16 people including 10 policemen, witnesses and officials said on Sunday.
by Bassem Attiya
NASIRIYAH, Iraq, Aug 22, 2010 (AFP) – Dozens of Iraqis violently protested in the southern city of Nasiriyah to demand better power supplies, wounding 16 people including 10 policemen, witnesses and officials said on Sunday.
The Saturday evening demonstration involved dozens of people who shouted “Where is the electricity?”, with several of them hurling stones and beating policemen with sticks, in a repeat of similar protests two months ago.
In response, officers in the city, 305 kilometres (190 miles) south of Baghdad, fired water cannons to disperse the crowd and arrested 40 people.
The protest was reminiscent of similar demonstrations in June in several Iraqi cities over power rationing, including one in Nasiriyah in which 17 police officers were wounded as a protest turned violent.
“At 9:30 last night, dozens of people gathered in the centre of Nasiriyah to protest, saying the provincial government was not providing sufficient basic services, especially electricity,” said Lieutenant Colonel Murtada al-Shahtur, spokesman for Nasiriyah police.
“They threw stones and used sticks, while police fired water cannons. Ten policemen were wounded, and 40 protesters were arrested.”
Jabbar al-Khafaji, the head of Nasiriyah hospital’s administrative department, confirmed that it had treated 10 policemen for wounds, and added that six protesters were also injured.
One of the protesters, 35-year-old shop owner Kamil Hussein, accused the state and federal government of failing to live up to their pledges.
“We demonstrated because we feel there is no solution to the electricity problem, and politicians have only made false promises,” he said.
Rasul Hussein, 28, added that he would continue to protest “to put pressure on the government to improve services.”
“They need to fix the electricity shortage. We need to sleep, it is too hot,” Hussein, who is unemployed, said.
Iraq’s daily power generation averages 8,000 megawatts, while demand in the summer, when temperatures have hit 54 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit), is typically more than 14,000 megawatts, forcing the use of rationing.
Only those with access to their own generators and fuel have been able to refrigerate foodstuffs or air-condition their homes around the clock, while others have been rendered helpless in the oppressive summer heat, triggering the protests.
At the bloodiest demonstration, in the main southern city of Basra in June, police opened fire on demonstrators hurling stones at provincial government offices, killing two protesters.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose electricity minister resigned in the wake of the protests, has warned that two more years of shortages lie ahead as there is no quick fix to the problem, which worsened dramatically in the wake of the US-led invasion in 2003.