Baghdad in state of emergency after supporters of al Sadr storm Green Zone

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Protesters Storm Baghdad's Green Zone

Iraqi officials declared a state of emergency for all of Baghdad after hundreds of supporters of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed into Baghdad's Green Zone on Saturday and entered the parliament building after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, two Reuters witnesses said.

"Iraq security authorities have declared a state of emergency in Baghdad," said Brig. Gen. Saad Mann, an Iraqi military spokesman. "All gates that lead to Baghdad are closed. No one is allowed to enter into Baghdad, only those who want to leave Baghdad can do so."

The protesters, who had gathered outside the heavily fortified district housing government buildings and many foreign embassies, crossed a bridge over the Tigris River chanting, "The cowards ran away!" in apparent reference to departing lawmakers.

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Baghdad in state of emergency after supporters of al Sadr storm Green Zone
Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen in the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen at the parliament building as they storm Baghdad's Green Zone after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government, in Iraq April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
An Iraqi man reacts as protesters gather inside the parliament after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified 'Green Zone' on April 30, 2016. A protest held outside the Green Zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum and approve new ministers to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters flash the V-sign as they gather inside the parliament after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified 'Green Zone' on April 30, 2016. A protest held outside the Green Zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum and approve new ministers to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters wave national flags as they gather inside the parliament after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified 'Green Zone' on April 30, 2016. A protest held outside the Green Zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum and approve new ministers to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters wave national flags and shout slogans after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified 'Green Zone' on April 30, 2016. A protest held outside the Green Zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum and approve new ministers to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters holding national flags gather inside the parliament after breaking into Baghdad's heavily fortified 'Green Zone' on April 30, 2016. A protest held outside the Green Zone escalated after parliament again failed to reach a quorum and approve new ministers to replace the current government of party-affiliated ministers. / AFP / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
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There were no reports of clashes with security forces. But special forces personnel from Iraq's army were dispatched with armored vehicles to protect sensitive sites, two security officials said. No curfew has been imposed, they said.

A United Nations spokesman and four Western diplomats based inside the Green Zone said their compounds were locked down, denying local reports that staff were being evacuated.

An online video showed protesters attacking a white, armored SUV with sticks and other objects. In a separate video, they beat a man in a gray suit.

A Kurdish peshmerga guard at a checkpoint said the protesters surged in after security forces pulled back from an external checkpoint in an unsuccessful effort to secure the parliament building. They had not been searched before entering the Green Zone, he said.

About ten members of the armed group loyal to Sadr were checking protesters cursorily as government security forces who usually conduct careful searches with bomb-sniffing dogs stood by the side, the witness said.

Local television broadcast footage from inside the parliament building showing hundreds of protesters dancing, waving Iraqi flags and chanting pro-Sadr slogans. Some appeared to be breaking furniture.

Rudaw TV showed them chanting and taking pictures of themselves inside the main chamber where moments earlier lawmakers had been meeting.

Thousands more protesters remained at the gates of the district chanting "Peaceful, peaceful!". Some were standing on top of concrete blast walls that form the outer barrier to the Green Zone.

Supporters of Sadr, whose fighters once controlled swathes of Baghdad and helped defend the capital from Islamic State, have been demonstrating in Baghdad for weeks, responding to their leader's call to put pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on months-old promises of reform.

Political parties have resisted efforts by Abadi to replace some ministers - chosen to balance Iraq's divisions along party, ethnic and sectarian lines - with technocrats in order to combat corruption. He has warned that any delay to the vote could hamper the war against Islamic State, which controls vast swathes of northern and western Iraq.

(Additional reporting by AOL News, Stephen Kalin and Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Richard Balmforth)





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