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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 April, 2005, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
Iraqis stage huge anti-US protest
Protesters carrying effigies of Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair and George W Bush
The gathering was the largest anti-US protest for months
Tens of thousands of protesters have marched through Baghdad denouncing the US occupation of Iraq, two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Demonstrators loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr rallied in the square where the ousted Iraqi leader's statue was toppled in 2003.

The protest was the largest since the 30 January elections.

Earlier, insurgents killed 15 Iraqi soldiers travelling in a convoy south of the capital, police said.

'No to the occupiers'

Mr Sadr's supporters streamed from the Sadr City district to Firdos Square, where the statue was brought down on 9 April 2003, symbolically marking the end of Saddam Hussein's regime.

TWO YEARS ON
More than 130,000 US troops remain in Iraq
Unofficial estimates of civilian deaths range from at least 15,000 to almost 100,000
Iraqis face fuel shortages and have to buy essential goods at black market prices
Unemployment is estimated at between 25% and 50%

Protesters chanted anti-Western slogans such as "No, no to the occupiers", and "No America! No Saddam! Yes to Islam!"

The square was packed with demonstrators waving Iraqi flags and holding aloft effigies of US President George W Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi security forces kept watch, while US troops were out of sight. There were no reports of violence

"I came from Sadr City to demand a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation," one protester, named Abbas, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

"The Americans wanted time and we gave them time, now we want to rule ourselves," he said.

Moqtada Sadr did not attend the rally. He is believed to have remained in Najaf since agreeing a truce with the US following clashes between US-led forces and Mr Sadr's Mehdi Army militia last August.

'Triangle of death'

Earlier on Saturday, the bodies of 15 Iraqi soldiers were found near the town of Latifiya, in a lawless area known as the "triangle of death".

There are conflicting accounts of how the soldiers died.

Police in the nearby town of Mahmudiya told Reuters news agency that gunmen forced the soldiers' truck to stop before shooting and killing them.

However, an Iraqi defence ministry official told AFP news agency that they were blown up by a roadside bomb.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Iraqis march through Baghdad to voice their anger



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