| Code: 61631 |

TIN news:        Protesters demanding government reforms have cut off road access to Iraq’s southern Umm Qasr commodities port, officials said on Saturday, hampering activity at the harbour which receives grain shipments and heavy equipment used in the oil industry.
 
Dozens of demonstrators, who have closed the port’s two main gates since Friday morning, set up tents overnight and refused to let trucks pass or employees enter the facility, said Ammar al-Safi, a spokesman for the state-run General Company for Ports of Iraq.
 
Security forces were on hand to keep the protesters out of the port but had not moved to disperse them, said Safi and a security source.
 
Thousands of Iraqis protested on Friday in Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities, calling for reform of the judiciary, parliament and local governing bodies.
 
The demonstrations, which began last month in response to power cuts amid a sweltering heat wave, helped prompt a sweeping reform campaign by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
 
The initiative is the biggest move yet by Abadi to strengthen his hand, even as nearly a third of Iraq’s territory has fallen to Islamic State militants and the central government faces a financial crisis from the collapsing price of its oil exports.
 
Abadi sacked a third of his cabinet last week, reducing the number of ministers to 22 by eliminating positions or combining some ministries with others.
 
He earlier eliminated Iraq’s three vice president positions, cut politicians’ security details and other perks, encouraged corruption investigations and gave himself the power to fire provincial governors and regional officials.
 
The moves, aimed at reducing corruption and incompetence which critics say have made Iraq nearly ungovernable, followed a call by the country’s leading Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to “strike with an iron fist” against corruption.
 
On Friday Sistani again backed Abadi’s reforms and said they should focus on the judiciary.
 
“The steps of reform must be carried out according to legal procedures so that those who are affected have no room to file complaints to courts to have them annulled … which may reduce these steps to mere ink on paper,” Sistani said in a sermon delivered by his aide Ahmed al-Safi.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Additional reporting by Saif Hameed and Reuters TV in Baghdad; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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