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Iraqi Protesters Leave Baghdad's Green Zone

  • RFE/RL

Supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gather in after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gather in after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Iraqi protesters who stormed Baghdad's Green Zone and set up camp have left the heavily fortified government district after issuing political demands but vowed to return to maintain pressure on political leaders.

Hundreds of protesters peacefully exited the Green Zone on May 1 after organizers of the action called on the demonstrations to be disbanded. They had entered the district the previous day by overrunning security barriers and proceeded to storm parliament and attack lawmakers.

The protesters, many of whom are loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, began departing after a spokeswoman for the organizers said in a televised speech that they would resort to "all legitimate means," including civil disobedience, if their demands are not met.

Earlier in the day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered authorities to arrest rioters and bring them to justice. Security forces, however, did not take action against those who remained in the Green Zone, which is home to government offices and foreign embassies.

The defusing of the crisis followed a high-level meeting convened by Abadi with Iraq's president, parliament speaker, and political bloc leaders who called the Green Zone breach "a dangerous infringement of the state's prestige and a blatant constitutional violation that must be prosecuted."

The senior officials said the meetings would continue in the coming days "to ensure radical reforms of the political process."

Iraqis have frequently complained that their leaders live a sheltered existence in the safety of the Green Zone while they suffer from daily violence and poor public services.

The April 30 storming occurred after lawmakers refused to hold a vote on reforming the government.

In an earlier statement issued on April 30, Abadi called on demonstrators to protest peacefully and not to damage "the property of state institutions."

WATCH: Iraqi Protesters Storm Green Zone, Enter Parliament

Hundreds of protesters, loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, then stormed the Green Zone, with some of them occupying the parliament building and the nearby cabinet headquarters.

Security forces fired tear gas and warning shots in a bid to contain the aggressive demonstration in the Green Zone.

Some television reports appeared to show protesters breaking furniture in the parliament building.

Others were waving Iraqi flags and shouting "peaceful, peaceful!"

Iraqi President Fuad Masum caled on Abadi and parliamentary speaker Salim al-Juburi for a crisis meeting on May 1.

In a televised address from Najaf, Sadr announced a two-month withdrawal from public life and said he was "waiting for the great popular uprising and the major revolution to stop the march of the corrupt."

Sadr supporters have been demonstrating for several weeks to pressure Abadi to carry out promised reforms. Some parliamentary parties, however, are resisting Abadi's efforts to replace some officials -- who were chosen to maintain sectarian and ethnic balances -- with technocrats.

There is an increased deployment of Iraqi security forces in the Green Zone.

The occupation of the parliament was an unprecedented security breach, although the Green Zone has often come under mortar attacks at various times in the years since U.S. forces ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Abadi has warned that the current political crisis can interfere with the country’s U.S.-backed fight against the Islamic State militant group, which controls key areas of Iraq's Sunni heartland.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa
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