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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 May 2006, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Fatal Basra crash sparks unrest
Basra crash scene
Soldiers cordoned off the area around the crash site

British soldiers have clashed with Iraqis after a number of UK servicemen died in a helicopter crash in the southern city of Basra.

Iraqi police claimed five local people were shot dead in the unrest, although they did not know who fired the shots.

The city has been placed under a night-time curfew to defuse tensions.

Earlier Basra police said the aircraft crashed into a house after being hit by a rocket, but British ministers said the cause of the crash was unclear.

Defence Secretary Des Browne offered his sympathies to the families of the servicemen who died.

BBC correspondents in Iraq say the events have opened a new chapter for British forces in the area - and it will be increasingly difficult for them to control Basra's streets.

Basra crowd
Basra police said four people were killed in subsequent clashes

According to police in the city, two children were among those killed and a further 19 people were wounded during the disturbances after the helicopter came down.

Gen John Cooper, commander of the British forces in Iraq, said troops did not fire directly into the crowds but fired live rounds at targets threatening them.

Major Sebastian Muntz, in Basra, could not confirm claims that people had died in the disturbances.

He said the curfew, in force from 2000 to 0600 local time, was doing its job and the situation near the crash site was calm.

Mr Browne, who has only been in the job since Friday, said he was "deeply saddened" by news of the crash, but warned against speculation over what had caused the incident.

"The situation on the ground is still developing and facts are still coming in. We must be careful to allow those investigating the incident to do their job."

In other developments:

  • A suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi army uniform entered an Iraqi army base in Tikrit and detonated an explosives belt, killing three army officers

  • Two Iraqi policemen were injured by a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul

  • In Baghdad, two children were killed and a woman injured when a mortar landed on their house in the north of the city

Crowds of Iraqis cheered and celebrated near the site of the helicopter crash as the wreckage burned.

Basra violence
Iraqi youths threw stones at British troops after the crash

The BBC's Andrew North said it was a sign of a "dramatic change in attitude" towards the British presence in southern Iraq.

As the troops moved in to secure the area, they came under a hail of stones and several armoured vehicles were set alight by petrol bombs.

Exchanges of gunfire took place but it was not clear where from, and it is thought the troops may have been the target of mortar shells that came down among the crowds of Iraqis.

Maj Muntz said although the scenes in the city had been "horrible", the general situation had been improving recently.

But our correspondents said Saturday's events made it clear that the number of people who wanted the British out was rising.

Basra  map

If confirmed, it would be the first time a British military helicopter had been shot down in the area.

The Liberal Democrats described it as an "appalling incident" and called for a "clear exit strategy" for British forces from the area.

Shadow defence minister Liam Fox said: "This incident raises a number of questions about the state of our airmen, which I am keen to pursue with the new secretary of state as soon as possible."

The MoD said it was not the right time to be discussing strategy, saying their efforts were concentrated on dealing with the situation on the ground.

More than 100 British service personnel have been killed in Iraq in total.

A hotline has been set up for families seeking information: 08457 800 900.


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