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Hundreds of protesters storm Baghdad’s Green Zone, enter parliament

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BAGHDAD — Hundreds of supporters of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone and entered the parliament building after MPs failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government.

The dissenters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting: “The cowards ran away!”

It was an apparent reference to MPs leaving parliament, a witness said.

A guard at a checkpoint said the protesters had not been searched before entering.

About ten members of the armed group loyal to Mr Sadr were checking protesters cursorily as government security forces, who usually conduct careful searches with bomb-sniffing dogs, stood by the side, the witness said.

The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting: “The cowards ran away!”

Supporters of Mr Sadr, whose fighters once controlled swathes of Baghdad and helped defend the capital from Islamic State, have been demonstrating for weeks at the gates of the Green Zone, responding to their leader’s call to pressure the government to reform.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants to replace some ministers — chosen to balance Iraq’s divisions along party, ethnic and sectarian lines — with technocrats in order to combat corruption, but political parties have resisted the changes.

Mr Abadi has warned that any delay to the vote could hamper the war against Islamic State, which controls vast swathes of northern and western Iraq.

Rudaw TV showed protesters chanting and taking selfies inside the parliament chamber where moments earlier lawmakers had been meeting.

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The Green Zone unrest kicked off minutes after powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wrapped up a news conference in the holy Shiite city of Najaf during which he condemned the political deadlock.

Last month he had threatened that his supporters would storm the Green Zone, but he did not order them to enter the area in his Saturday address.

AFP

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5 dead as gunman attacks churchgoers in Russia

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At least five people were killed and another five were injured when a gunman attacked a crowd of people leaving a church on Sunday in Russia’s southern province of Dagestan, Russian news agencies reported.

The attack occurred in the village of Kizlyar in the Muslim-majority republic of Dagestan.

Russian news agencies said the attack occurred as churchgoers celebrated Maslenitsa, a Christian holiday marking the last day before Lent according to the eastern Orthodox calendar.

CCTV footage from the site of the deadly shooting shows a man armed with a rifle gunning down two women in broad daylight.

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A bearded man clad in a black vest and camouflage pants was seen crossing the street before opening fire on two female churchgoers as they left a service in Kizlyar in the Republic of Dagestan on Sunday afternoon. A woman walking several meters from the attacker was seen rushing away as the bloodshed unfolded.

The attacker was identified as a 22-year-old man local to the region, the TASS news agency said, citing the investigative committee.

He was shot and killed by security services who were on duty nearby, TASS said, adding that a hunting rifle, bullets and a knife were discovered on his person.

Initial reports suggested all five victims were women, TASS said, citing the local branch of the interior ministry.

Agencies

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