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Protesters attack Iraq deputy PM

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iol news pic dec30 Mideast Iraq

AP

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2006 file photo, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, speaks to reporters in Baghdad, Iraq. Bodyguards for a senior Iraqi Sunni politician wounded two people while shooting to disperse angry anti-government protesters in Iraq's west, a provincial official said. It is the first significant incident of violence reported during more than a week of protests by Sunnis angry over their perceived second-class treatment by the country's Shiite-led government. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

Ramadi, Iraq - Two people were wounded when security forces opened fire to disperse protesters who attacked Iraq's deputy premier on Sunday, forcing him to flee a rally he was addressing, an AFP reporter said.

The demonstrators, who have blocked a key highway connecting Iraq to Syria and Jordan for the past week over the alleged targeting of their Sunni Arab minority by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, threw water bottles, stones and shoes at Saleh al-Mutlak before grabbing and hitting him.

Mutlak, who is himself Sunni and from Anbar province where the protests have been staged, managed to escape after federal police arrived and fired their weapons into the air.

An aide to Mutlak, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deputy premier was all right and was returning to Baghdad.

Mutlak had arrived at the rally site earlier on Sunday and began addressing the crowds, which have numbered in the tens of thousands at their peak over the past week, from an elevated platform.

But as he began speaking, demonstrators shouted “Traitor!” in an apparent reference to his being in the national unity government they were protesting against, and began throwing bottles of water at him, an AFP journalist said.

They then began hurling stones and shoes, at which point Mutlak's personal security detail formed a protective ring around him and escorted him from the platform, firing their weapons above the heads of protesters.

But demonstrators followed them and broke through the security cordon, grabbing Mutlak's clothes and hitting him in the mouth, drawing blood.

Federal policemen then intervened, firing into the air to disperse the crowd, and Mutlak was driven off in an unmarked civilian car. Two people were wounded by the gunfire.

The rallies began on December 23 after the arrest three days earlier of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi's guards on terrorism charges, prompting the minister to call for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to resign or be removed.

Demonstrators, who have massed in Sunni-majority provinces such as Anbar, Nineveh and Salaheddin, have said anti-terror laws were being used by the Shiite-led government to target their community. - Sapa-AFP


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