Parliament occupiers staying put

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) — Supporters of powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr occupied the country’s parliament on Saturday with no plan to leave, deepening a months-long political standoff.

It is the second time in days that supporters of the firebrand Shiite cleric have forced their way into the legislative chamber, after October elections failed to lead to the formation of a government.

“The demonstrators announce a sit-in until further notice,” Sadr’s movement said in a brief statement to journalists carried by state news agency INA.

In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, government formation has involved complex negotiations since the 2003 United States (US)-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Supporters of Sadr, who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces, oppose a rival, pro-Iran Shiite bloc’s pick for prime minister — Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

The post conventionally goes to a figure from Iraq’s Shiite majority.

“We don’t want Mr. Sudani,” one protester, Sattar al-Aliawi, 47, said.

The civil servant said he was protesting against “a corrupt and incapable government” and would “sleep here” in the gardens of parliament.

He added: “The people totally refuse the parties that have governed the country for 18 years.”

Sadr’s bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction, but was still far short of a majority.

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