Protesters block president’s route over Iraqi ferry sinking

By Farid Abdulwahed and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Associated Press

Residents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have blocked a road where a presidential convoy was passing, in a protest over the sinking of a ferry in the Tigris River that killed 95 people.

The crowds chanted “no to corruption” and pelted the provincial governor’s car with stones.

The visit to Mosul by President Barham Saleh came as search teams were still trying to find more bodies after the ferry capsized on Thursday with dozens on board, including families with children.

People pray near the sunken ferry site in Mosul (Farid Abdulwahed/AP)

The boat was overloaded with holidaymakers celebrating both Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and also Mother’s Day,

The death toll rose to 95 on Friday, after another body was found.

The protesters did not harm Mr Saleh but shortly afterwards, pelted the SUV of the governor of Nineveh province, Nofal al-Akoub, with bottles and stones, demanding that he be sacked.

A video soon emerged showing the two incidents. In one, Mr Saleh is seen speaking from his car window with the protesters, many of whom were young men.

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He had rushed to Mosul where he held meetings with security officials over the sinking of the ferry.

The other video shows protesters pelting the governor’s vehicle and breaking the windscreen before it speeds away.

The spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for accountability for those responsible for the sinking and urged officials whose ministries were linked to the tragedy to resign.

His message was delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the Shia holy city of Karbala.

Relatives of victims waiting on the bank of the Tigris (Farid Abdulwahed/AP)

Prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi ordered an investigation and also briefly visited Mosul, where he declared three days of national mourning.

Judicial authorities ordered the arrest of nine workers operating the ferry. The men were detained and an arrest warrant is out for the owner of the tourist island where it was headed.

The sinking of the ferry was a tragic blow to Iraq’s second-largest city which is still struggling to overcome the devastation wreaked by the Islamic State group.

IS captured Mosul in summer 2014, making the city its main stronghold in Iraq. After US-backed Iraqi forces retook the city three years later, in July 2017, much of the area was in ruins.