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Iraqi protesters and security forces clash, keep Basra's Umm Qasr port closed

Protests have evolved since 1 October from rage over corruption and unemployment into wholesale condemnation of Iraq's elite political and religious class
Umm Qasr port receives bulk of Iraq's imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar needed to feed country heavily dependent on imported food (Reuters)

Thousands of protesters in Basra were blocking all roads leading to Iraq's main Gulf port Umm Qasr on Saturday, after security forces used live rounds and tear gas on them overnight, security sources said.

Operations at the port have been at a standstill since Wednesday, after protesters first blocked its entrance on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Umm Qasr receives the vast bulk of Iraq's imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar needed to feed a country heavily dependent on imported food. Iraq's oil exports take place mostly from nearby offshore platforms, which have not been affected.

The protests are part of a movement that has brought tens of thousands of Iraqis to the streets to demonstrate. They have evolved since 1 October from rage over corruption and unemployment into a wholesale condemnation of Iraq's elite political and religious class. More than 250 people have died in a government crackdown on the unrest.

Trucks carrying goods have been prevented from entering or leaving the port. Some international shipping lines have halted operations because of the port's closure, port officials said.

In pictures: Iraqi protesters maintain occupation of Baghdad's Tahrir square
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Further disruptions to port operations could cause financial damage to the country and impact the inflow of commodities, port officials said earlier this week. They also said they were holding talks with protesters to allow the port to resume normal operations.

Baghdad clashes

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces clashed with anti-government protesters near the capital's Tahrir Square on Saturday as anti-government rallies that have rocked Baghdad for a month cost more lives.

The violence in Baghdad has been centred on two bridges linking Tahrir to the Green Zone on the west bank of the Tigris River where most government buildings and foreign embassies are located.

Riot police deployed along the bridges on Saturday fired tear gas to keep back protesters, who have dug into their positions behind their own barricades.

One demonstrator was killed there overnight and another died during the day on Saturday, medical sources confirmed to AFP. Dozens more were wounded in the clashes.

The movement has swelled as students, trade unions and NGOs joined in.

Iraq has suffered decades of back-to-back conflicts, including war with Iran, the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein and years of sectarian infighting.