Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq's capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands of protesters kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country.

Three rockets hit US embassy in protest-hit Iraqi capital

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Agence France-Presse

Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq’s capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands of protesters kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country.

The attack marked a dangerous escalation in the spree of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.

None of the attacks has been claimed but Washington has repeatedly blamed Iran-backed military factions in Iraq.

On Sunday, one rocket hit an embassy cafeteria at dinner time while two others landed nearby, a security source told AFP.

A senior Iraqi official told AFP at least one person was wounded, but it was not immediately clear how serious the injuries were and whether the person was an American national or an Iraqi staff member working at the mission.

The US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The US State Department called on Iraq late Sunday to “fulfil its obligations to protect our diplomatic facilities”.

The attack took place earlier in the day than usual, with AFP reporters hearing the booms on the western bank of the river Tigris at precisely 7:30 pm (1630 GMT).

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Halbusi both condemned the incident, saying it risked dragging their homeland into war.

Iraq has already been dragged into a worrying tit-for-tat between the United States and Iran over the last month.

A similar attack on a northern Iraqi base killed an American contractor, and the US retaliated with a strike on an Iran-backed faction known as Kataeb Hezbollah.

Less than a week later, a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport — prompting Iran to fire ballistic missiles at an Iraqi base where US troops are stationed.

– ‘Only for you, Iraq!’ –
Some 5,200 Americans are stationed in Iraq to lead the global coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, but the US strike on Baghdad has rallied top Iraqi figures around a joint call to order them out.

Vehemently anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr organised a mass rally in Baghdad on Friday, where thousands of his supporters called for American troops to leave.

Sadr had previously backed separate anti-regime protests sweeping Iraq’s capital and south, even though he controls the largest bloc in parliament and top ministerial posts.

Bolstered by his own protest on Friday, Sadr announced he was dropping support for the youth-dominated reform campaign rocking the country since October.

His followers, widely regarded as the best-organised and well-stocked of the anti-government demonstrators, immediately began dismantling their tents and heading home.

Activists feared that without his political cover, authorities would move to crush their movement — and indeed, within hours, riot police tried to storm protest camps.

Those efforts continued into Sunday, with security forces using live rounds and tear gas to try to flush protesters out of squares and streets they had occupied for months.

One protester was shot dead in Baghdad and another in the flashpoint southern city of Nasiriyah, medical sources said, and dozens more were wounded across the country.

In the capital, riot police have tried to clear streets around the main protest camp of Tahrir Square but have yet to enter the symbolic area, where many protesters stood their ground even after tents there were dismantled.

Just after midnight in Nasiriyah, unknown assailants stormed the main protest camp in Habbubi Square and set the tents on fire, the flames lighting up the night sky, an AFP correspondent there said.

– UN hails ‘Iraqi hopes’ –
Despite the renewed violence, thousands of students flooded the streets in the capital and across the south in a bid to keep national attention focused on their demands.

“Only for you, Iraq!” read a sign held by a young protester in the shrine city of Karbala, hinting at the movement’s insistence on not being affiliated with any political party or outside backer.

In Basra, hundreds of students gathered to condemn the riot police’s dismantling of their main protest camp the previous day, according to an AFP correspondent.

The youth-led protests erupted on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption before spiralling into calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence.

More than 470 people have died, a vast majority of them demonstrators, since the rallies began.

Protesters are now demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.

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Duterte reminds public anew to follow safety protocols amid rise in virus cases: ‘Wala ng ibang solusyon’

By Prince Golez

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday appealed to the public to strictly follow health and safety protocols amid the rising cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the country.

Duterte urged everyone to always wear a mask, wash hands, and observe social distancing to prevent further transmission of the virus.

“Marami ang namatay. Marami pa rin ang may sakit. Ang pinakamataas ngayon Manila mismo. Ngayon, anong dahilan nito? Well, yung hindi naniwala sa social distancing, hindi naman naniwala sa personal hygiene. Ang hinihingi lang ng mga duktor eh, ang sinasabi ng duktor para sa ‘yo, kapakanan mo is maghugas ka ng kamay, cover yourself with a mask, [and] clean your hands,” the Chief Executive said during his weekly public address.

“If you have to hold or touch something even it is inanimate, bisan walang buhay, kahoy o furniture, bantay kayo diyan, sa restaurant, ang umupo diyan, meron, may naiwan, and yung mag-ubo sa publiko.

“Bantay kayo diyan. That’s why social distancing. If the other guy on your right side is coughing heavily, might as well just go away, move yourself a little bit father. Wala ng ibang solusyon eh. It’s just the mask, the washing of the hands at social distancing,” he added.

In his speech, Duterte also asked the public to “trust” the advice of government people, especially the one coming from the Health Secretary.

The Philippines recorded 3,356 new Covid-19 infections today, bringing the total number to 597,763.

Yap’s P20B budget cut in military pension fund ‘gravely’ affects unsettled payouts, says Ungab

MANILA – Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab (Davao City) said the unilateral decision of House committee on appropriations chair Eric Yap on the P20-billion budget cut in the military pension fund has “gravely affected” the remaining unsettled payouts of retired soldiers.

In his privilege speech on Monday, Ungab responded to Yap’s accusation that he was responsible over the supposed fund deficiency for the retired soldiers’ unsettled pension adjustments due to the P74-billion budget cut under the 2020 National Budget—which was approved and ratified when the Davao City solon was still the chair of the Lower House’s appropriations panel.

In response to Yap’s allegations, Ungab cited the recent statement made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), wherein it stated the deficiency in the gratuity did only happen when the 2021 National Budget approved—wherein Yap led the budget process, being the current appropriations panel chair.

Based on the DBM’s press release, it was explained that the real cause of the present deficiency in the military pension fund is due to the unsettled 2018 pension adjustments which were supposedly computed to be paid in its submitted P172.9 billion 2021 budget.

In the submitted 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP) to Congress, the DBM has proposed P172.9 billion for the pension and gratuity fund of retired military and other uniform personnel, but the legislature only approved P152.9 billion in its final draft.

“The P20-billion budget cut of Cong. Eric Yap gravely affected these intended 2018 unsettled payouts. Ayan po, malinaw po ang mga numero na nakapaskil sa DBM, hindi po nagsisinungaling ang mga datos na ito,” said Ungab.

For Ungab, since Yap had already accepted responsibility over the slash fund, the ACT-CIS solon should better not pass the blame on others, following the blunder he committed.

During his interpellation with Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor last week, Yap admitted that he didn’t consult the present House leadership, particularly Speaker Lord Allan Velasco when he realigned the portions of the gratuity fund, citing lack of time.

Ungab stressed that being a reserved Philippine Army colonel himself, he assured all the men in uniform that he is there in Congress “to help protect and legislate” what they truly deserve from the government, as promised to them by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Alam naman nating lahat na hindi pababayaan ni Presidente Duterte ang mga empleyado ng gobyerno, because he was once an employee of the Department of Justice. Lalong-lalo na po ang mga kawani natin na sundalo at pulis. Malapit na malapit po kayo sa puso ng ating Pangulong Duterte,” said Ungab. (CRD)

Duterte takes swipe at Robredo anew: ‘A misplaced comma would change the meaning of everything’

By Prince Golez

President Rodrigo Duterte again criticized Vice President Leni Robredo for creating doubts when she called for a review of the China-donated Sinovac vaccines by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC).

In a late-night televised address on Monday, Duterte said that donated vaccines need not undergo HTAC assessment as it’s only recommendatory in nature.

“A misplaced comma would change the meaning of everything. So, ang sinabi niya na sana sinunod yung proseso, magbibigay siya ng bakukang sa ulo ng tao na, ‘Eh Bise Presidente siya eh sana papabakuna ako kaya lang sinabi na hindi sinunod ang proseso’. Turns out that, at best, nakuna nila yung recommendation. There was a recommendation. so hindi totoo yung wala,” the Chief Executive said.

“With just a simple statement, mag-create ka ng doubt, and we were doing everything, convincing, spending most of our time convincing people that it is safe ang bakuna. If you create that uncertainty in the minds of people mas maraming ayaw,” he also said.

Duterte likewise advised Robredo to “shut up” when she does not have anything right to say.

“I hope next time kung wala siyang masabi na tama she just would maybe shut up. Siguraduhin niya muna o magbasa siya [ng batas]. Ikaw Ma’am ang magbasa and take notes of important or salient points of the law,” he said.

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