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  • More than 300 people have been killed and 15,000 people wounded since the beginning of the unrest in Baghdad.

    More than 300 people have been killed and 15,000 people wounded since the beginning of the unrest in Baghdad. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 November 2019

Police used tear gas and stun bombs to stop protesters from crossing the third bridge to the Green Zone.

Iraqi protesters blocked Sunday the third bridge leading to Baghdad's Green Zone as well as roads leading to oilfields and the main port in the country's south, gaining more ground in the largest and deadliest anti-government demonstrations in decades.

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Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to stop protesters from crossing the Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad, in part of a weeks-long attempt to disrupt traffic and get to the Green Zone where government ministries and embassies are located.

Additionally, hundreds of students gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic place of the protest movement. 

"No politics, no parties, this is a student awakening!" read one banner carried by a young Iraqi.

Meanwhile, for the second time since the start of anti-establishment demonstrations, protesters on Monday blocked the entrance to the Umm Qasr, Iraq's main Gulf port near Basra, preventing employees and tankers from entering and bringing operations down by 50 percent, two port sources said.

If the blockage continues, operations will come to a complete halt, the sources told Reuters. 

"We students are here to help the other protesters, and we won't retreat a single step," said another teenager.

In the city of Hillah, south of Baghdad, students and other activists concentrated in front of the provincial headquarters.

"We'll keep up our protest and general strike with all Iraqis until we force the government to resign," said Hassaan al-Tufan, a lawyer and activist.

According to AFP, sit-ins have become the main tactic for the rallies that started in October in anger and outrage over corruption, unemployment and a political class that is disconnected from the popular masses. Protesters have fought against efforts by police to prevent the gatherings, and on Sunday thousands came out across the country after activists called for a general strike.

More than 300 people have been killed and 15,000 people wounded since the beginning of the unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October.

Iraqi security forces have been heavily criticized for their use of live rounds - including machine-gun fire - and firing of heavy-duty tear gas canisters against mostly young and unarmed protesters, leading to "gruesome" deaths and injuries when canisters pierce protesters' skulls or lungs.

The outgoing chief of NATO's Iraq mission told AFP on Sunday the violence was "an absolute tragedy."

"While the events of the last six weeks are an absolute tragedy, NATO continues to urge restraint to the government of Iraq," said Major General Dany Fortin.

The government has proposed a list of reforms in recent weeks but demonstrators rejected them as insignificant and made too late in a country ranked the 12th most corrupt in the world by Transparency International.

"These steps, these reforms are just an opiate for the masses. Nothing more, nothing less," another protester said on Sunday, pointing to the Green Zone, adding that "there are so many capable young people in Iraq who are deprived, and unfortunately those are the guys who rule us." 

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