Protesters, soldiers killed in Iraq

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iol news pic Mideast Iraq Protests~1 AP Protesters throw stones towards Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint during clashes in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, January 25, 2013. (AP Photo/ Bilal Fawzi)

Baghdad - Five protesters and three soldiers were killed on Friday in central Iraq, as rallies by the Sunni Muslim minority against the Shiite-led government continue.

Protesters in the city of Falluja, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, threw rocks at soldiers who opened fire, killing five people and injuring 20, witnesses said.

Soldiers tried to prevent protesters from reaching the city centre, where a rally was planned.

Shortly after, gunmen attacked an army patrol in the city, killing three soldiers. Security sources said the attack was in retaliation for the protesters' death.

Members of the provincial council called on Defence Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi to withdraw his troops from the city to prevent further violence.

Thousands of Sunni Iraqis have been protesting against Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accusing his government of marginalizing Sunni leaders.

Demonstrators took to the streets on Friday in Falluja and Samaraa in central Iraq as well as the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

“We reject the government's policy of procrastination and we want our demands met,” a preacher taking part in the Mosul protest said. “We are calling for our rights and will not go back before achieving them.”

Protesters want al-Maliki to amend anti-terrorism laws and end a ban on former ruling Baath party members from public office, which they say targets Sunnis.

They are also demanding the release of tens of thousands of Sunni prisoners. Shiites make up 65 per cent of Iraq's population. - Sapa-dpa

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