Iraqi authorities cancel planned curfew in Basra

Iraqi authorities have cancelled a planned curfew in the southern city of Basra minutes before it was to start, following the blocking of the Umm Qasr port by demonstrators earlier on Thursday.

The Basra Operations Command confirmed to Reuters calling off the curfew, which was due to start at 3pm local time (12:00GMT) as a measure to quell weeks-long protests which had intensified over the past week.

One protester succumbed to his wounds after being shot in the head by security forces with a smoke grenade the night before, bringing the death toll this week to eight people. At least 25 people were also injured on Wednesday.

Dozens of protesters on Thursday prevented the entry and exit of trucks loaded with goods to and from the port,  forcing it to halt all operations. They also chanted slogans against the security forces for their use of live ammunition against them.

Iraq is largely dependent on Umm Qasr for imported food; the port receives grain, vegetable oil and sugar shipments.

Protesters also blocked the highway from Basra to Baghdad and set fire to the main provincial government building where they had been demonstrating for a third night.

Southern Iraq, heartland of the Shia majority, has erupted in unrest in recent weeks as protesters express their rage over collapsing infrastructure, power cuts and corruption.

Public anger has grown at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May. Residents of the south complain of decades of neglect in the region that produces the bulk of Iraq’s oil wealth.

Residents in Basra, a city of more than two million people, say the water supply has become contaminated with salt, making them vulnerable and desperate in the hot summer months.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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