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Police allow gangs to attack peaceful protesters

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, February 24, 2011 - Iraqi police allowed dozens of assailants to beat and stab peaceful protesters in Baghdad on February 21, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces have an obligation to protect the right to assemble peacefully and to use only the minimum necessary force to protect lives if violence erupts, Human Rights Watch said.

In the early hours of February 21 dozens of men, some wielding knives and clubs, attacked about 50 protesters who had set up two tents in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. The assailants stabbed and beat at least 20 of the protesters who were intending to camp in the square until February 25, when groups have called for national protests similar to the "Day of Anger" in Egypt. The attack came directly after the police had withdrawn from the square, and witnesses suggested the assailants were in discussion with the police before they attacked.

"Promises by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to allow protests are meaningless when we see vicious attacks like the one on February 21," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Iraqi authorities should hold police who allowed this attack to happen accountable."

Scores of demonstrations have taken place across the country since early February, mainly focused on the chronic lack of basic services and perceived widespread corruption. Since February 16, security forces have killed at least five protesters and injured more than 100 at demonstrations throughout Iraq. Armed men have also targeted opposition groups and media. In Sulaimaniya, assailants set fire to multiple buildings of the opposition Goran ("change") party and the headquarters of a newly established TV and radio station that broadcast video of the protests.

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To read the full press release, click here

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