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Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Sunday, 30 March 2008 12:51 UK

New curfew to curb Iraqi unrest

A gunman approaches a burning Iraqi army vehicle in Basra on 30 January
Smoke billowed from burning army vehicles in Basra on Sunday

Baghdad's military command has renewed a round-the clock curfew indefinitely as the government continues a crackdown on Shia militias it began on Tuesday.

The curfew had been due to expire early on Sunday morning but violence is continuing and new fighting has also broken out in Basra in the south.

Radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr is defying a government deadline for his Mehdi Army militia to lay down arms.

Across Iraq, the fighting has claimed more than 240 lives since Tuesday.

Despite the continued curfew, some Baghdad residents are rushing to markets to stock up on goods with the price of vegetables doubling in some areas, the BBC's Crispin Thorold reports from the city.

But it is feared the curfew extension will damage the capital economically, as well as inconveniencing residents, he says.

Air strikes

Clashes have continued in some Shia parts of Baghdad.

Iraqi soldiers man a checkpoint in Baghdad on 30 March
Baghdad has been under curfew since Thursday
In Basra, heavily armed gunmen attacked a TV facility, setting a number of army vehicles alight, the Associated Press reports.

The curfew extension came after a day of skirmishes between security forces and Shia militiamen in the southern city of Basra.

Coalition forces have become more involved with US air raids in Baghdad and Basra in recent days.

The US military says its special forces have been on the ground in Basra, providing support to their Iraqi counterparts.

British artillery in Basra fired on suspected militia mortar positions on Saturday - the first time they have directly joined the government clampdown.

'Legitimate resistance'

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has given militias until 8 April to hand in their weapons in return for cash.

What appear to be Iraqi soldiers hand weapons to a Shia cleric in Sadr City, Baghdad, on 29 March
Foreign news crews recorded an arms handover in Sadr City
He vowed troops would not leave Basra until security was restored and described gunmen there as "worse than al-Qaeda".

But Moqtada Sadr has said arms will only be surrendered to a government committed to ejecting US-led foreign forces from Iraq.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV,, he urged Muslim states and the UN to recognise the "legitimacy of resistance" and back Iraq in driving out "the occupation forces".

Some apparent members of the Iraqi security forces defected to his side on Saturday, handing in their weapons to one of his offices in Baghdad's Sadr City suburb.

"We can't fight our brothers in the Mehdi Army," one of them said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr Sadr's followers have in the past rebelled against the US-backed government, although the cleric's political bloc has backed Mr Maliki's ruling coalition.

Casualties mount

Estimates vary of the number of deaths since the fighting broke out.

BBC map
Fighting in Baghdad has left 117 people dead over the past three days, Iraqi police told the BBC.

In Basra, the British military have given a death toll of 50 but local medical sources report as many as 290 dead and the Iraqi army has reported killing 120 "enemy" fighters there.

Scores of people are believed to have been killed in other southern cities, according to Iraqi police or medical reports.

At least 44 people were killed in and around Kut, 15 in Nasiriya, 12 in Karbala and six in Hilla.



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