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Iraq’s Khor al-Zubair Port Reopens as Protests Persist

Iraq’s Khor al-Zubair Port Reopens as Protests Persist

Wednesday, 20 November, 2019 - 18:30
Protests continue in Iraq. (Reuters)

Iraq’s Khor al-Zubair commodities port near Basra reopened on Wednesday and operations resumed normally, port officials said.

On Tuesday protesters blocked the entrance to the Gulf port and prevented trucks from entering, as part of the biggest wave of anti-government demonstrations in the country in decades.

Khor al-Zubair is Iraq’s second main Gulf port. It is used to export cargoes of gas condensates and receives refined oil product shipments, construction and electrical commodities and food.

Iraq’s major commodities port of Umm Qasr is still closed after hundreds of protesters on Monday again blocked the entrance to the port near Basra, preventing employees and tankers from entering and bringing operations to a complete halt.

Talks with protesters have not managed so far to make them evacuate Umm Qasr’s entrance, port officials said.

Sit-ins have become a go-to tactic for Iraqis demonstrating against their government since early October.

Protesters have shut the road to Umm Qasr several times, causing a delay in offloading operations that on one occasion forced around a dozen ships to unload their cargo in another country.

Road closures have also impacted heavy crude from the Qayyarah field in northern Iraq from reaching Khor al-Zubair since earlier this month.

The prime minister's office has warned security forces "will not allow" protesters near key infrastructure, and riot police have forced roads open in deadly crackdowns.

More than 330 people have been killed since rallies erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across the south.

In the capital's main protest camp of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, thousands gathered Wednesday to express their ongoing frustration.

Top leaders and political parties have focused their efforts on hiring drives, more welfare and a new electoral law as immediate measures.

Parliament met late Tuesday to discuss a draft voting law that proposes downsizing the house from 329 seats to 251, shrinking districts and distributing votes according to a complex hybrid system.

But the United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the draft law needed more work.

"The draft electoral legislation -- currently under review by the Council of Representatives -- requires improvements to meet public demands," it said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert urged lawmakers to pass legislation that "will reflect the public appetite for a new and different way of conducting politics".

Protesters have so far been unimpressed by the government's proposals and large crowds -- most of them students -- turned out on Wednesday.

"Last night's session serves their own interests, not those of the people," said Younes, a 28-year-old protester.

Crowds have spilled over from Tahrir onto three main bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris, where key government buildings and embassies are based.

On Tuesday night, they tried to cross two of the bridges to reach the so-called Green Zone but security forces deployed on the bridges fired tear gas to keep them back, a security source told AFP.

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