Iraq PM warns Sunni protesters, makes small concession
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has warned he will not tolerate Sunni anti-government rallies indefinitely, but made a concession to their demands by promising to free some women prisoners.
Thousands of Sunnis have been taking to the streets of Iraq for more than a week in protest against Maliki, whom they accuse of discriminating against their sect and being under the sway of their non-Arab Shi'ite neighbor Iran.
The incident has once more threatened to plunge a delicate power-sharing deal into turmoil, just as President Jalal Talabani, a moderating influence, is in Germany for medical care after suffering a stroke.
The cradle of the protests is Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold in western Iraq, where demonstrators are blocking a key highway to Jordan and Syria.
In a televised interview late on Monday, Maliki said there were foreign agendas behind the protests, which he described as "unconstitutional".
"I say to those who follow these agendas: Don't think it's difficult for the government to take measures against you or to re-open the road and put an end to this matter," Maliki said.
"We have been very patient with you, but don't expect this issue to be open-ended."
The protesters are demanding an end to what they see as the marginalization of the Sunni minority, who dominated Iraq until the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
They want Maliki to abolish anti-terrorism laws that they say he has used to pursue political rivals such as the Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who fled after being accused of running death squads and was sentenced to death in absentia. Continued...