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Protest in Al-Sadr City, Baghdad (RFE/RL) 14 December 2005 -- Thousands of demonstrators protested in Baghdad and some Shi'ite cities today over comments in an Al-Jazeera television discussion program that they said insulted Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.


In one southern town, police intervened when marchers turned their anger on a campaign office of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who leads a secular coalition. There were protests in Al-Najaf, Karbala, Al-Basrah, and other cities.


The protesters were offended by comments by a guest on Al-Jazeera yesterday who reportedly said al-Sistani should stay out of politics. The comments were reported by the Iraqi satellite channel Al-Furat, which is owned by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shi'ite party belonging to the increasingly fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance coalition.


Al-Sistani's blessing for the United Iraqi Alliance is seen as important to its success in the January elections for the current interim National Assembly.


"Al-Jazeera are terrorists," read one banner above about 5,000 protesters in Baghdad's Shi'ite Al-Sadr City district.


Armed police joined the chanting by about 1,000 marchers in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, al-Sistani's base, demanding an apology from Al-Jazeera and shouting slogans against Sunni leaders and Allawi.


Al-Jazeera journalists were banned from working in Iraq after government complaints that the channel favored Sunni insurgents.

Iraqi Legislative Elections 2005



RFE/RL's coverage, background, and analysis of Iraq's December 15, 2005, legislative elections.

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