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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2006, 07:45 GMT
Tense Iraq extends daytime curfew
Central Baghdad on Friday
Most of Baghdad was empty on Friday
The Iraqi government has extended a curfew it imposed in parts of the country on Friday to calm tensions sparked by an attack on a Shia shrine.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has vowed to rebuild the al-Askari shrine and Sunni holy sites ruined in revenge.

At least 130 people - mostly Sunnis - have died since the Shia shrine in Samarra was bombed on Wednesday.

Gunfire reportedly broke out at the funeral of an Iraqi journalist killed while reporting on the shrine bombing.

It was not clear who attacked the funeral procession of al-Arabiya TV's Atwar Bahjat or if anyone was injured.

The bombing of the shrine and reprisals have led to fears of a descent into civil war.

Map showing the Iraqi provinces under curfew

US President George W Bush has urged restraint, saying: "This is a moment of choosing for the Iraqi people."

The Iraqi authorities extended an extraordinary curfew covering Baghdad and the provinces of Diyala, Babil and Salahuddine from Friday evening to 1600 (1300 GMT) on Saturday.

Prime Minister Jaafari announced a ban on demonstrations and a clampdown on the carrying of weapons in public.

The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says the streets of the city are virtually empty for a second day, and no newspapers have been published.

Friday's daytime curfew appeared to have blunted much of the violence, with just a handful of incidents reported.

Few Iraqis went out, except to travel by foot to nearby mosques for weekly prayers.

'Conspiracy'

Shia and Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq and abroad used Friday prayers to issue appeals for restraint and unity.

Iraq's most influential Shia political leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said the bombers who attacked the shrine in Samarra "do not represent Sunnis in Iraq".

Anyone who attacks a Muslim is not a Muslim
Moqtada Sadr,
Shia cleric

In a televised statement, Mr Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, blamed the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and loyalists of former leader Saddam Hussein.

"We all have to unite in order to eliminate them," he said.

The theme was echoed in sermons in the Iraqi Shia heartland of the south.

Followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr attended his sermon in the Sadr City district, hearing him urge restraint.

"We are not enemies but brothers," he told them. "Anyone who attacks a Muslim is not a Muslim."

'Intense days'

A large crowd attended prayers at the Abu Hanifa mosque, Baghdad's most important Sunni site.

Imam Ahmed Hasan al-Taha said the bombing was a conspiracy to draw Iraqis into sectarian conflict.

In Saudi Arabia, top cleric Salah al-Qaaid said at his sermon at Mecca's Grand Mosque: "It is not in Iraq's interest to rush to blame people, or take revenge."

Several joint Sunni-Shia protests were held on Friday in Basra, Kut and Mosul to appeal for calm and national unity.

But the political situation in Iraq remains tense, with the main Sunni alliance announcing its withdrawal from negotiations to form a coalition government.

President Bush in Washington urged Iraqis to retain their focus on democracy.

"We can expect the coming days will be intense," he said.

"Iraq remains a serious situation, but I'm optimistic because the Iraqi people have spoken... They want their freedom."


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See Baghdad's deserted streets under daylight curfew





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