Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds boycott cabinet session to back protests

BAGHDAD Tue Jan 8, 2013 6:26pm IST

Supporters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki shouts slogans during a demonstration in Basra , 420 km (261 miles) southeast of Baghdad January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Atef Hassan

Supporters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki shouts slogans during a demonstration in Basra , 420 km (261 miles) southeast of Baghdad January 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Atef Hassan

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Sunni Muslim and Kurdish ministers boycotted a cabinet session on Tuesday to show support for protests that threaten Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fragile cross-sectarian government, lawmakers and a government source said.

Thousands of protesters have demonstrated and blocked a key highway in Iraq's Sunni provinces for more than two weeks to challenge Maliki, a leader many Sunnis feel has marginalised their community a year after the last U.S. troops pulled out.

Sunni-backed Iraqiya party lawmakers said their ministers stayed away from the cabinet in support of the protests sparked in late December when security forces arrested bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi.

"They made a decision to boycott the session today," Iraqiya lawmaker Jaber al-Jaberi told Reuters. "They don't see a response from the government to the demands of the protesters... or to accepting power-sharing."

Alaa Talabani, a Kurdish lawmaker, said party leaders had also asked Kurdish ministers to stay away. A senior government source at the meeting confirmed Sunni and Kurdish ministers had missed the Council of Ministers session.

Violence and bombings are down sharply since the height of Iraq's conflict, but the government, split among majority Shi'ites, minority Sunnis and ethnic Kurds, has been deadlocked over power-sharing since it was formed in December 2010.

(Reporting by Patrick Markey, Aseel Kami and Raheem Salman; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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