Four killed in Iraq fuel protests - police


  • World
  • Sunday, 01 Jan 2006

By Chalak Abdullah

RAHINAWA, Iraq (Reuters) - Security forces in Iraq shot dead four people protesting against a recent hike in fuel prices on Sunday, police said, after rioters set cars and petrol stations on fire near the northern oil city of Kirkuk. 

Iraq, which has the world's third biggest oil reserves, is grappling with its latest fuel crisis and price rises imposed by a deal with the International Monetary Fund; longer than usual queues have built up at petrol stations and many who voted in last month's peaceful election talk of disillusion. 

Iraqis stand near a burning petrol station in Rahinawa near Kirkuk, north of Baghdad January 1, 2006. (REUTERS/Slahaldeen Rasheed)

In Baghdad, eight bombs exploded across the capital on New Year's morning, causing minor damage and only a handful of injuries; U.S. commanders have been congratulating themselves of late on disrupting deadlier suicide car bomb attacks. 

In Rahinawa, near Kirkuk, security forces opened fire on young men as they marched down a main street protesting a lack of basic amenities and the doubling and tripling of prices for vehicle fuel and household gas 13 days ago, police said. 

At least four protesters were killed and two wounded, police Captain Salaam Zangana said. A curfew was imposed. Police said it was unclear whether U.S. or Iraqi forces fired. 

A spokesman for U.S. forces said U.S. troops wounded only one person in a car at a checkpoint and said there were no other gunshot casualties in the hospital. 

The protesters set fire to an office building belonging to Iraq's North Oil Company, a police colonel said. Four cars and two petrol stations were also set ablaze. 

The protest was the latest in a wave of demonstrations against the fuel price hike across the country -- an increase that heralds cuts in huge subsidies that are planned as part of an IMF economic reform and aid package signed last month. 

Despite its vast oil reserves, Iraq has struggled to deal with energy supply at home; it spends billions importing fuel, as frequent sabotage attacks on oil infrastructure and equipment ravaged by years of war and sanctions crimp oil production and refining operations. 

The country's precarious supply system was thrown into further disarray when the government shut its main northern refinery over 10 days ago, prompting long lines at petrol stations amidst fears the pumps would run dry. 

NEW YEAR'S BLASTS 

In what appeared to be yet another attack on an oil facility, a bomb exploded near the big Dora refinery in southern Baghdad but only succeeded in setting a pipeline connected to a power plant on fire. 

The explosion followed eight other bomb blasts that greeted Baghdad residents on New Year's morning, wounding at least three people, police said. 

Two blasts went off near restaurants in eastern Baghdad and another two targeted police patrols. At least two explosions stemmed from car bombs. 

Just hours before, the night sky over Baghdad lit up with red tracer bullets and sparkling fireworks as residents celebrated New Year's eve. 

During the evening, the teenage son of the Palestinian cultural attache to Iraq was shot dead as he sat in a car listening to music. It was mot clear who killed him. 

Al Qaeda militants in Iraq have often targeted staff from embassies of Muslim countries in an effort to stop them from recognising Iraq's U.S.-backed government. 

On Saturday, the group released five Sudanese embassy staff after Khartoum announced it was shutting its Baghdad mission following their kidnappings. 

In another reprieve for an Arab hostage, a Lebanese man who was kidnapped in Iraq in September has been released, the official Lebanese National News Agency reported on Sunday. 

A previously unknown Islamist militant group, the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice, had said it captured Garabet Jekerjian for supplying alcohol to Iraqi and U.S. forces in Iraq. 

Violence continued unabated elsewhere in the country, building on a steady stream of attacks since a dropoff in their numbers during last month's parliamentary elections. 

Sixteen civilians were wounded when a car bomb exploded targeting a U.S. patrol near the northern oil refining town of Baiji, local authorities said. 

(Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Kirkuk and Aseel Kami, Deepa Babington, Mariam Karouny, Gideon Long and Alastair Macdonald in Baghdad) 

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