WORLD – Shia protesters storm parliament
Hundreds of Shia Muslim activists have stormed Iraq’s parliament in Baghdad, in protest against continuing deadlock in approving a new cabinet.
Supporters of cleric Moqtada Sadr broke through barricades of the fortified Green Zone for the first time, after MPs failed to convene for a vote.
A state of emergency was declared and security forces near the US embassy fired tear gas.
Protesters set up camp outside the parliament after occupying the chamber.
Nearby foreign embassies are watching anxiously but there has been no serious violence so far.
“We still view this as a demonstration,” Sabah al-Numan, spokesman for the counterterrorism forces, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency. “We aren’t taking any part in this as it’s not something regarding terrorism.”
Mr Sadr wants Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to commit to a plan to replace ministers with non-partisan technocrats.
Powerful parties in parliament have refused to approve the change for several weeks.
Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the Green Zone, the most secure part of Baghdad that houses embassies and government buildings, to protest against the political deadlock.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum has called on the protesters to vacate parliament and politicians to enact the cabinet reshuffle.
A new protest outside the zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum on Saturday.
Groups marched on the district soon after the end of a televised appearance by Mr Sadr, although he did not call for the storming of parliament.
The protesters tried to stop lawmakers attempting to flee the building.
Inside the chamber, jubilant demonstrators took up the seats of the deputies and posed for photos.
One protester, Ali Mohammed, said they were angry at the politicians’ failure to act.
“The people have come to the right place, to rule themselves,” he told Reuters news agency.
“The people are now staging a sit-in inside parliament. Our legitimate and only demand is to dismiss the government and replace it with an independent cabinet of technocrats.”
The state of emergency declared does not feature a curfew.