Tuesday, December 07, 2021

BAGHDAD (AP) — Tens of thousands of Iraqis massed in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest demonstrations since anti-government protests

erupted a month ago, defying security forces that have killed scores of people and harshly criticizing Iran’s involvement in the country’s affairs.

The square and the wide boulevards leading into it were packed with flag-waving protesters, as security forces reinforced barricades on two bridges leading to the heavily-fortified Green Zone, the seat of government. The protesters want sweeping change to the political system established after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which they blame for widespread corruption, high unemployment and poor public services.

At least 255 people have been killed in two major waves of protests in the past month, including five who died Friday of wounds sustained earlier, according to security and medical officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters. At least 350 people were wounded Friday as security forces fired tear gas grenades and rubber bullets to drive people back from the bridges.

Many protesters directed their rage at Iran, which emerged as a major power broker after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and has close ties to powerful political parties and state-backed militias that were mobilized to battle the Islamic State group but have now become an imposing political faction.

Videos circulated online of a group of protesters holding a poster showing Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the head of its elite Quds force, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, with their faces crossed out. The video, which showed protesters beating the poster with their shoes, appeared to have been filmed Thursday in Tahrir Square. On Friday, protesters marched over an Iranian flag painted on the pavement with a swastika added to it.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iraq’s government “should listen to the legitimate demands made by the Iraqi people who have taken to the streets to have their voices heard.”

In a statement, he called on all sides to reject violence and said the Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice.

This month’s protests in Iraq and similar demonstrations in Lebanon are fueled by local grievances and mainly directed at the political elite, but they also pose a challenge to Iran, which closely backs both governments. An increasingly violent crackdown in Iraq has raised fears of a backlash by Iran and its heavily armed local allies.

On Friday, a group of about 50 militia supporters showed up at the protest, prompting other demonstrators to chant: “Iran take your hands off, the people don’t want you!”

The militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, said in a statement that they stood with the protesters and were committed to protecting them. But the statement warned of “foreign interests” that it said wanted to sow division in order to cause “internal fighting, chaos and destruction.”

The remarks echoed those made by Khamenei and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, which has accused unidentified foreign powers of manipulating the protests.

Iraq’s influential Shiite clerical establishment, which is seen as politically independent, condemned “attacks on peaceful protesters and all forms of unjustified violence,” saying those responsible should be held accountable.

Shiite cleric Ahmed al-Safi, who delivered a Friday sermon on behalf of the clerical leadership, said authorities should not allow “any person or group or biased entity, or any regional or international party” to impose its view on the Iraqi people — an apparent reference to Iran.

The sermon was delivered in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where masked men suspected of being linked to the security forces opened fire on protesters earlier this week, killing at least 18 people.

Amnesty International says security forces in Baghdad have fired military-grade tear gas grenades directly into the crowds, causing horrific wounds and occasionally lodging the projectiles in people’s skulls. During an earlier wave of demonstrations, snipers shot protesters in the head and chest, with nearly 150 killed in less than a week.

One protester, Ahmad Fadel, showed up dressed head to toe in sniper camouflage that resembled threshed hay.

“All of Iraq is out today against the regime and the corrupt government and parties,” he said. “I’m wearing this as a form of support to the protesters and a message to the sniper who targets protesters: You will not scare us.”

The protesters have called for the resignation of the government and sweeping changes to the political system established after the U.S. invasion, which apportions power among the Shiite majority and Sunnis and Kurds.

Iraq has held regular elections since then, but they have been dominated by sectarian political parties, many of which are close to Iran. The protests have occurred in Baghdad and mostly Shiite southern Iraq, and have been directed against the Shiite-led government. In southern Iraq, demonstrators have attacked and set fire to political party offices.

The protesters accuse their rulers of squandering the country’s oil wealth, pointing to its poor infrastructure and frequent power outages more than 15 years after the overthrow of Saddam and the lifting of international sanctions.

“I was born to be respected, among people who should be respected,” said a protester who identified himself as Abu Sajad. “But as far as we are concerned, we have the worst passport in the world and the worst nationality. We are the No. 1 country when it comes to corruption. We have the second or fourth largest oil reserves but we are a poor nation.”

President Barham Salih said Thursday he would approve early elections once a new electoral law is drafted, expressing support for the protesters but saying reforms would have to be enacted through constitutional means. He said Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is willing to resign once political leaders agree on a replacement.

But the process of forming a new government could take weeks or even months, and a Cabinet reshuffle seems unlikely to satisfy the protesters.

Thousands also gathered in the main square of Najaf, another Shiite holy city, late Thursday. Groups of men danced and waved Iraqi flags, while volunteers handed out falafel sandwiches cooked on site.

“This is a great revolution,” said Marwa Ahmed, one of several women in the rally. “We will not give up or back down until our demands are met.”

SXM Radio Online

Entertainment

September 7, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Michael K. Williams, who as the rogue robber of drug dealers Omar Little on “The Wire” created one of the most beloved and enduring characters in a prime era of television, died Monday. Williams was found dead Monday afternoon by family members in his Brooklyn penthouse apartment, New York City police said. He was 54. His death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, the NYPD said. The medical examiner was investigating the cause of death. Little, a “stick-up boy” based on real figures from Baltimore, was probably the most popular character among the devoted fans of “The Wire,” the HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008 and is re-watched constantly in streaming.

September 8, 2021 LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears’ father filed Tuesday to end the court conservatorship that has controlled the singer’s life and money for 13 years. James Spears filed his petition to terminate the conservatorship in Los Angeles Superior Court. “As Mr. Spears has said, again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” the document says. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.” Judge Brenda Penny, who oversees the case, will need to approve the move. Britney Spears attorney Matthew Rosengart said in an email the filing “represents another legal victory for Britney Spears — a massive one — as well as vindication for Ms. Spears.”

September 8, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — With Katie Holmes and Lil’ Kim on his front row and singer Marina on the mic high above his runway, Christian Siriano helped kicked off New York Fashion Week’s first big pandemic round of in-person shows Tuesday with a flurry of neon and lace-inspired in part by all the Italian women in his life. From ornate Gotham Hall, beneath a stained-glass skylight 70 feet up, Siriano’s commitment to size inclusivity was never stronger as he opened and closed the show with plus-size breakout model Precious Lee. She first walked in a stunning yellow trouser suit with wide loose pants and an asymmetrical jacket, a matching crossover bralette underneath.

September 7, 2021  VENICE, Italy (AP) — Paul Schrader knows he has a limited number of films left, so whatever he does from here on out is going to be for himself. At 75 years old, the writer of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” and director of “American Gigolo” and “Mishima” was even somewhat prepared to call it a day after his 2018 film “First Reformed,” for which he got his first Oscar nomination. He didn’t want to. He just knew it might be the reality. “I thought I would go back to this character again for about the fifth time,” Schrader said in a recent interview. By “this character” he means “the man in the room.” It’s Travis Bickle. It’s John LeTour. It’s Julian Kay. And it’s a formula he’s been working with for 45 years.

Business News

September 8, 2021  -Stocks were mostly lower in Asia on Wednesday after a lackluster session on Wall Street, where weak jobs data and pandemic concerns weighed on sentiment. Shares rose in Tokyo after economic growth for the April-June quarter was revised upward to an annualized 1.9% from an earlier estimate of 1.3%. “Any feel-good factor was ignored, though, given the climb was less than half of the 4.20% fall in Q1,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary. “Japan will be lucky to break even this year as the current Covid-19 wave will almost certainly have weighed on domestic consumption,” he said.

September 8, 2021 NEW YORK (AP) — There will be something missing at two Whole Foods stores opening next year: the rows of cashiers. Amazon, which owns the grocery chain, said Wednesday that it will bring its cashier-less technology to two Whole Foods stores for the first time, letting shoppers grab what they need and leave without having to open their wallets. Cameras and sensors track what’s taken off shelves. Items are charged to an Amazon account after customers leave the store with them. But there will be an option for those who want to shop the old-fashioned way: Self-checkout lanes will be available that take cash, gift cards and other types of payment. Amazon first unveiled the cashier-less technology in 2018 at an Amazon Go convenience store and has expanded it to larger Amazon supermarkets. But it will be the first time it has appeared at Whole Foods, a chain of more than 500 grocery stores Amazon bought four years ago.

September 8, 2021  BEIJING (AP) — An avalanche of changes launched by China’s ruling Communist Party has jolted everyone from tech billionaires to school kids. Behind them: President Xi Jinping’s vision of making a more powerful, prosperous country by reviving revolutionary ideals, with more economic equality and tighter party control over society and entrepreneurs. Since taking power in 2012, Xi has called for the party to return to its “original mission” as China’s economic, social and cultural leader and carry out the “ rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.” The party has spent the decade since then silencing dissent and tightening political control. Now, after 40 years of growth that transformed China into the world’s factory but left a gulf between a wealthy elite and the poor majority, the party is promising to spread prosperity more evenly and is pressing private companies to pay for social welfare and back Beijing’s ambition to become a global technology competitor.

Fashion News

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