Iraqi premier warns against violence amid protests

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 04, 2011 17:00 hrs

Baghdad, March 4 (DPA) Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned against the return of violence and sectarianism Friday as thousands held peaceful protests demanding better services and an end to corruption.

After meeting with a number of security chiefs, al-Maliki stressed the need to maintain and protect the political process from 'enemies' and not allow the return of sectarianism, violence and militias, Alsumaria website reported.

Al-Maliki also said that people had the right to express their opinion and demonstrate. But he warned against violating the law.

However, in the northern city of Mosul, residents told DPA that the police had forced them to return to their homes.

'Security forced me to return home though I was planning to join protests,' Mohamed Saadon, a resident in Mosul, told DPA. 'They threatened to shoot me in the leg if did not go back to my home. They also prevented my three children from leaving home.'

Hundreds of people took to the streets in the northern city although security forces fired shots in the air to disperse them.

Also in Mosul, police arrested a Saudi suspected of planning a suicide bomb attack, heading toward where the protests were taking place. Police defused the explosives he was carrying, said Hassan Khodier, head of Mosul's operations command.

In Basra, five journalists were injured when police attacked them during the protests.

The capital was quiet Friday evening after a driving ban, imposed on Baghdad and five other cities from midnight, was lifted Friday as protests ended.

Hundreds of army and policemen were deployed on the roofs of tall buildings as forces closed the entrances to the Green Zone, where many embassies and ministries are based.

Iraqi army soldiers searched protesters for weapons before they reached the capital's Tahrir Square.

Authorities allowed media and satellite channels to cover the protests after having banned them last Friday, when nationwide mass demonstrations left 18 people dead and more than 140 injured due to clashes between protesters and security.