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Wednesday, February 19, 2020 03:38:55 PM
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Iraq protesters defiant as they bury 7 killed in overnight clash

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Iraqi followers of influential cleric Moqtada Sadr, carrying batons, clashed on Wednesday with anti-government protesters in the central holy city of Najaf.

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AFP, Najaf, Iraq :
Young Iraqi protesters pushed on with anti-government rallies across the country on Thursday as they buried seven fellow activists killed overnight in violence blamed on supporters of powerful cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Sadr - a militiaman-turned-politician with a cult-like following - had backed the rallies demanding the ouster of the entire political class when they erupted in October but has since then changed course.
In supporting ex-minister Mohammad Allawi as Iraq's new premier, Sadr split with the rest of the popular movement, and his diehard followers have turned on rival protesters.
Late Wednesday, Sadrists raided a protest camp in Iraq's shrine city of Najaf where demonstrators had been chanting against Allawi.
Seven anti-government protesters were killed by bullets to the head or chest, medics in the city said, and dozens more were wounded.
On Thursday morning, the dead were wrapped in white shrouds and carefully laid in coffins draped with Iraqi flags, then carried in a funeral march through the city.
Young Iraqis, sobbing, grasped at the coffins as they were carried past.
Despite the bloodshed, Iraqis gathered for renewed rallies, with hundreds of students flooding Baghdad's Tahrir Square.
"Whether ten or 100 die, I won't abandon this cause!" they chanted, as a girl stood silently nearby with a banner that read, "Our martyrs are our candidates".
High school student Tayba walked into Tahrir alone, an Iraqi flag tied around her shoulders. "We've finally got used to it," she said somberly, of the violence in Najaf.
"In fact, we're even more determined. Before, the students used to hold just one demonstration a week, now there are three."
Nearly 490 people have been killed and 30,000 wounded since October, most
of them demonstrators, according to a count compiled by AFP from security and
medical sources.
The demonstrators have demanded a total overhaul of the ruling system and have rejected Allawi - nominated on February 1 to replace Adel Abdel Mahdi, who stepped down in December - as too close to the political elite.
Sadr's endorsement of Allawi prompted a sudden escalation in tensions with other demonstrators, which spilled over on Monday when an anti-government protester was stabbed to death in Hilla, south of the capital.
Sadr has ostensibly tried to calm the tensions in the days since, but for those in Tahrir, the damage was done.
"Did you see what happened in Najaf? The masks have fallen off," said Mohammad, a university student who has skipped class every day since October to protest.
"We've even told the Sadrists here that they were supposed to secure the square and their guys are the ones doing this - but they don't listen to us," he told AFP.
For demonstrators in Nasiriyah further south, the deaths in Najaf are only the latest episode of their bloodstained uprising.
"Demonstrators were shot dead, kidnapped, assassinated, and now their camps are attacked in broad daylight under the watchful eye of the security forces," said Adnan Dafar, a protester.

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