Iraqis hold mass rallies in support of PM Maliki

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 Iraqis have staged mass pro-government demonstrations across the country to express support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in the cities of Basra, Kut, Diwaniyah, Karbala and Samawa on Tuesday to show their support for Maliki.

The demonstrators also dismissed requests for a change in the country’s anti-terror laws, slamming recent calls for abolishing a law that forbids Baath Party members from taking office, saying the county would witness more violence if Baathists were allowed to return to power.

“The demands of the people in the northern region are illegal, unacceptable and against the interests of people,” Hani al-Nuri, a demonstrator, said.

The pro-government rallies were held in response to weeks of anti-government protests in some Iraqi cities, including the western province of Anbar.

Iraq has been the scene of anti-government demonstrations since December 23, 2012, when the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi were arrested on terrorism-related charges.

The demonstrators allege that the arrests were made on sectarian grounds and demand an end to anti-terrorism laws. But the government says it is up to the parliament to decide on abolishing those laws.

Last week, Maliki said Baghdad would use force to end the protests in Anbar province, where protesters have blocked off a highway linking Iraq to Syria and Jordan. The Iraqi government says there are foreign agendas behind the protests.

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