Four shot dead in Iraq fuel price protests


Security forces in Iraq shot dead four people protesting against a recent hike in fuel prices today after rioters set cars and petrol stations on fire near the northern oil city of Kirkuk.

Iraq, which has the world's third biggest oil reserves, is grappling with its latest fuel crisis and price rises imposed by a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Longer than usual queues have built up at petrol stations and many who voted in last month's peaceful election talk of disillusion.

In Baghdad, eight bombs exploded across the capital this morning, causing minor damage and only a handful of injuries.

In Rahinawa, near Kirkuk, security forces opened fire on young men as they marched down a main street protesting a lack of basic amenities and the doubling and tripling of prices for vehicle fuel and household gas 13 days ago, police said.

At least four protesters were killed and two wounded and a curfew was imposed.

Police said it was unclear whether US or Iraqi forces fired. A spokesman for the US forces said their troops wounded only one person in a car at a checkpoint and said there were no other gunshot casualties in the hospital.

The protest was the latest in a wave of demonstrations against the fuel price hike across the country - an increase that heralds cuts in huge subsidies that are planned as part of an IMF economic reform and aid package signed last month.

Despite its vast oil reserves, Iraq has struggled to deal with energy supply at home; it spends billions importing fuel, as frequent sabotage attacks on oil infrastructure and equipment ravaged by years of war and sanctions crimp oil production and refining operations.

The country's precarious supply system was thrown into further disarray when the government shut its main northern refinery over 10 days ago, prompting long lines at petrol stations amidst fears the pumps would run dry.

In what appeared to be yet another attack on an oil facility, a bomb exploded near the big Dora refinery in southern Baghdad but only succeeded in setting a pipeline connected to a power plant on fire.

The explosion followed eight other bomb blasts that greeted Baghdad residents on New Year's morning, wounding at least three people, police said. Two blasts went off near restaurants in eastern Baghdad and another two targeted police patrols. At least two explosions stemmed from car bombs.

Just hours before, the night sky over Baghdad lit up with red tracer bullets and sparkling fireworks as residents celebrated New Year's eve.