Iraqis protest US 'colonisation'

demonstration AFP Shi'a ire: Iraqi Shi'as demonstrate against the closure of Moqtada al-Sadr's newspaper. Photos: AFP

Baghdad - Thousands of people rallied outside the Baghdad headquarters of the United States-led occupation on Friday in a continued protest against a decision to suspend a newspaper owned by a radical Iraqi Shi'a Muslim cleric.

The peaceful protest was the biggest since the occupation last week temporarily shut the weekly, which is owned by Moqtada Sadr.

Sadr supporters chanted "Down with the United States", "Yes to Islam", "No to colonisation" and called for the reopening of the weekly and the defence of press freedom.

They prayed outside one of the entrances of the so-called "Green Zone", the sprawling complex which serves as the occupation's headquarters and is heavily protected by US troops.

picture Flaming fury: Protesters burn a T-shirt printed with the United States flag. AFP

"We are going to leave our wives and children to demonstrate in the streets and if we are honest followers of Sadr, we will face off the US tanks to stop them from moving forward," said Imam Azim al-Aaraji in his sermon.

He also slammed Iraq's interim Governing Council and the Americans "as infidels".

"Yes to Jihad (holy war)," the protesters said as some burned a white sheet bearing a Star of David.

Hoisting huge portraits of Sadr, the demonstrators were surrounded by a security cordon made up of the cleric's militiamen dressed in black pants and shirts.

picture Poster boy: An Iraqi boy holds up a poster of Moqtada al-Sadr at a demonstration in Baghdad. AFP

Last Sunday, occupation forces served Al-Hawza Al-Natiqa an injunction signed by US overseer Paul Bremer shutting it down for 60 days for publishing articles "that prove an intention to disturb general security and incite violence against the coalition and its employees".

The move prompted hundreds of Sadr loyalists to stage a sit-in outside the newspaper's office in southern Baghdad that evening. Almost daily protests have been organised since then.

A Sadr spokesperson has said protests will continue until the ban was lifted.

On Tuesday, an occupation official defended the decision to padlock the paper's offices saying "under international law we have an obligation to maintain security here".

prayer On their knees: Shi'as perform their middays prayers as they demonstrate, in front of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters. AFP

"We are within our legal right to act against institutions or individuals that are provoking violence," the official added. - Sapa-AFP

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