British fire baton rounds to quell riot

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British troops in Iraq opened fire on rioting protesters for the second time in 24 hours yesterday during violent clashes between Allied forces and former soldiers from Saddam Hussein's army.

Soldiers from the Queen's Lancers and 1st King's Regiment fired baton rounds to disperse rioters who had set fire to tyres and were bombarding vehicles with stones in the southern city of Basra.

Reports from witnesses said that five people were wounded but the British Army in Iraq said the clashes, at about 9am local time (7am BST), did not result in any serious injuries.

The incident, close to the city's university, came a day after British soldiers in the nearby port area shot dead an Iraqi man who was pointing a weapon during outbursts by former conscripts queuing to receive compensation for being made unemployed.

The American-led administration in Iraq has agreed a one-off payment of $40 (£24) to each of the 440,000 conscripts who served in Saddam's army and lost their jobs when it was disbanded in May.

Iraqi police called to calm yesterday's protest in Basra had to hide in a building after they ran out of bullets while firing into the air. Allied commanders said the protest had been "small" but news agency reports said hundreds of angry conscripts took part.

A British Army spokesman in Basra said: "British troops were called to bring the situation under control. Baton rounds were used to disperse a crowd which had gathered near the university and six arrests were made."

Military chiefs said it was unclear whether the protest, which happened four miles from a conscript payment office in the port, was directly linked to Saturday's violence.

An investigation has been ordered into the death of the Iraqi man on Saturday.

The protests in Basra were repeated in Baghdad and the town of Hilla. US troops clashed with about 200 former soldiers in the capital yesterday.

Military commanders said the protests had been fuelled by Saddam supporters spreading rumours that there was not enough money to pay all the former Iraqi soldiers their dues.