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Iraq prime ministers vows to free some women prisoners

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 10:02 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has warned he will not tolerate Sunni anti-government rallies indefinitely, but made a concession to their demands by promising to free some women prisoners.

Thousands of Sunnis have been taking to the streets of Iraq for more than a week in protest against Maliki, whom they accuse of discriminating against their sect and being under the sway of their non-Arab Shiite neighbor Iran.

The incident has once more threatened to plunge a delicate power-sharing deal into turmoil, just as President Jalal Talabani, a moderating influence, is in Germany for medical care after suffering a stroke.

The cradle of the protests is Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold in western Iraq, where demonstrators are blocking a key highway to Jordan and Syria.

In a televised interview late Monday, Maliki said there were foreign agendas behind the protests, which he described as “unconstitutional.”

“I say to those who follow these agendas: Don't think it's difficult for the government to take measures against you or to reopen the road and put an end to this matter,” Maliki said.

“We have been very patient with you, but don't expect this issue to be open-ended.”

The protesters are demanding an end to what they call the marginalization of the Sunni minority, who dominated Iraq until the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

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