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Sadr Supporters Defy Ban, Stage Protest In Iraq

Thousands of supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have defied a government ban and launched a sit-in outside Baghdad's Green Zone.

Many of the demonstrators carried Iraqi flags as they set up tents on March 18 to begin what they said was an open-ended protest.

The Iraqi cabinet banned the demonstration, noting the potential for terrorist activity in a nation occupied in part by the Islamic State group and plagued by such attacks.

Sadr, a Shi'ite Muslim leader, said the sit-in was needed to pressure Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to replace cabinet ministers with technocrats to counter the culture of political patronage that has fed corruption.

Sadr asked his followers to refrain from violence and said the protests would be peaceful.

Abadi on March 11 asked political blocs in parliament and "influential social figures" to nominate technocrats, but he remains under pressure from entrenched political factions not to erode their influence.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP