Iraq protesters rail against MPs' benefits
Thousands of protesters in and around Baghdad and south Iraq angrily railed against lawmakers' lavish benefits on Saturday despite heavy security measures that kept many away, particularly in the capital.
Demonstrators criticised lawmakers' retirement benefits in particular, which amount to thousands of dollars a month each and stand in marked contrast to the daily struggle for many Iraqis who lack even dependable electricity and sewerage services.
"A huge amount of money goes to these people," said Aamer Qasim, a pharmacist who attended a demonstration in the centre of Baghdad with several colleagues.
"The money should be spent on health, on education, on electricity, on infrastructure."
Protests were also held in several cities in south Iraq, including the port city of Basra as well as Nasiriyah, Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Hilla, according to AFP journalists.
Iraqi lawmakers have faced consistent criticism for their lavish pay and benefits, which are several times that of the average citizen.
But anger has grown in recent in weeks in particular over the pensions awarded to them after they leave parliament.
Demonstrations were officially barred, however, in the capital on security grounds, and protesters were surrounded by a heavy security presence where they were allowed to gather, at several squares in central Baghdad.
At one rally, security forces detained an AFP photographer and confiscated his camera.
The interior ministry's decision to ban the protests in Baghdad was met with criticism from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
"The authorities can ban demonstrations if they believe they will be violent, but here the concern seems that protests will be politically embarrassing or inconvenient," Joe Stork, HRW's Middle East director, said in a statement.