Three rockets hit US embassy in protest-hit Iraqi capital
Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq's capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands of protesters kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country.The attack marked a dangerous escalation in the spree of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.
Vehemently anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr organised a mass rally in Baghdad on Friday, where thousands of his supporters called for American troops to leave.Sadr had previously backed separate anti-regime protests sweeping Iraq's capital and south, even though he controls the largest bloc in parliament and top ministerial posts. Bolstered by his own protest on Friday, Sadr announced he was dropping support for the youth-dominated reform campaign rocking the country since October. His followers, widely regarded as the best-organised and well-stocked of the anti-government demonstrators, immediately began dismantling their tents and heading home. Activists feared that without his political cover, authorities would move to crush their movement -- and indeed, within hours, riot police tried to storm protest camps. Those efforts continued into Sunday, with security forces using live rounds and tear gas to try to flush protesters out of squares and streets they had occupied for months. One protester was shot dead in Baghdad and another in the flashpoint southern city of Nasiriyah, medical sources said, and dozens more were wounded across the country. In the capital, riot police have tried to clear streets around the main protest camp of Tahrir Square but have yet to enter the symbolic area, where many protesters stood their ground even after tents there were dismantled. Just after midnight in Nasiriyah, unknown assailants stormed the main protest camp in Habbubi Square and set the tents on fire, the flames lighting up the night sky, an AFP correspondent there said. UN hails 'Iraqi hopes' Despite the renewed violence, thousands of students flooded the streets in the capital and across the south in a bid to keep national attention focused on their demands. "Only for you, Iraq!" read a sign held by a young protester in the shrine city of Karbala, hinting at the movement's insistence on not being affiliated with any political party or outside backer. In Basra, hundreds of students gathered to condemn the riot police's dismantling of their main protest camp the previous day, according to an AFP correspondent. The youth-led protests erupted on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption before spiralling into calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence. More than 470 people have died, a vast majority of them demonstrators, since the rallies began. Protesters are now demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.
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