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'We are one': Lebanese rally against Iraq's crackdown on protesters as death toll increases

More than 420 have been killed in Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2019

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The move of solidarity in Lebanon came as Iraq’s death toll increased to more than 420.
Dozens of people in protest-swept Lebanon staged a candlelit vigil outside Iraq's embassy on Saturday to denounce the excessive use of force against demonstrators there. 

Pictures of Iraqi protesters who have been killed since the unprecedented anti-government movement began on October 1 were raised at the vigil.

The move of solidarity came as Iraq’s death toll increased to more than 420, triggering outrage among the international community. More than 15,000 others have been wounded since early October, when Iraq's grassroots protest movement, the largest the country has seen in decades, was first triggered.

The toll spiked dramatically this week, when a crackdown by security forces left dozens dead in Baghdad, the Shia shrine city of Najaf and the southern hotspot of Nasiriyah - the birthplace of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who vowed to resign on Friday.

The violence was unleashed after protesters stormed and burned the Iranian consulate in Najaf, accusing Iraq's neighbour of propping up the Baghdad government.

The following day, Iraqis maintained anti-government protests in Baghdad and across the south, unsatisfied with the resignation.

Demonstrations set tyres ablaze on three bridges spanning the Euphrates River as hundreds more converged in the main protest camp in the flashpoint city's centre, according to an AFP correspondent. 

Lebanon has also seen an unprecedented anti-government protest movement since October 17.

Layal Siblani, the organiser behind the vigil, said the spiralling crackdown in Iraq this past week prompted the idea. 

"The uprising in Iraq and the uprising in Lebanon are one," she told AFP.

"A protester killed there is a protester killed here."

Like their counterparts in Iraq, Lebanese demonstrators are rallying against corruption, unemployment and appalling public services.

They are also pushing for an end to the kind of political system that prioritises power-sharing between sects over good governance.

Despite confrontations with security forces and supporters of established parties, protesters in Lebanon have largely been spared the violent crackdown seen in Iraq.

But rights groups and the United Nations last week criticised security forces for failing to protect protesters after they were attacked by backers of the Shia Hezbollah and Amal movements at several locations. 

On Friday, Amnesty International urged the Lebanese army "to end arbitrary arrests" and torture of peaceful protesters following a wave of detentions. 

The authorities have "failed to adequately protect protesters from violent attacks by others", said a statement signed by a group of independent rights experts affiliated with the United Nations.

Signatories included Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Michel Forst, special rapporteur on human rights defenders.

"Security forces have reportedly failed to intervene to protect peaceful protesters or arrest perpetrators on at least six occasions," they said.

London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International warned that attacks on protesters could signal a "dangerous escalation".

"The authorities must act immediately to protect protesters and uphold the right to peaceful assembly," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research head.

Hussein, at the vigil on Saturday, said Lebanese protesters had a duty towards those in Iraq.

"We have to stand in solidarity with our Iraqi counterparts who are being arrested and killed on a daily basis," he said.

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