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Iraqi killed in protest over lack of electricity

By Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
  • Hundreds protest in southern city of Basra
  • Official says gunshots were not intended to harm protesters
  • Power shortages are unnerving in Iraq's searing summers
  • Seven years after invasion, Iraq still lacks basic services

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- At least one Iraqi was killed and two others injured during a demonstration in the southern city of Basra on Saturday, a local official said.

Hundreds of people took to the streets Saturday morning protesting the lack of electricity, said Hashim al-Louaibi, a spokesman for the Basra Provincial Council.

He said demonstrators outside the local government's building broke windows and threw stones at security forces, who in turn fired gunshots in the air to disperse the crowds. The shots were not intended to harm the protesters, but led to the casualties, al-Louaibi said.

Local officials at the provincial council held an emergency meeting after the protest to come up with recommendations on how to improve the power situation. In comments broadcast on al-Iraqiya television, the deputy governor blamed the Iraqi government and the ministry of electricity for the situation.

More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq still suffers from a lack of basic services including water and electricity. The lack of power is especially unnerving during Iraq's searing summers. Temperatures in Basra, one of the hottest places in the country, soared above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday.

Basra residents on average receive two hours of electricity for every five hours that it is turned off, al-Louaibi said.

Baghdad residents are also complaining of enduring another summer with no solution in sight for the lack of electricity. In the capital people receive a daily average of about six hours of electricity, but even that supply is intermittent.

Shortly after news of the protests spread, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office announced in a statement that he has ordered a ministerial delegation to head to Basra to deal with the power shortage.

Al-Maliki appealed for calm and asked the people of Basra to not let the situation destabilize the city. He also ordered that ministry of electricity employees be held responsible for not fulfilling their promises of increasing the electricity supply to nine hours a day in Baghdad and other provinces.

Many Iraqis rely on private generators to make up for electrical shortages, but they complain of the high monthly cost.

One of the top demands Iraqis made ahead of national elections last March was for the government to provide basic services -- something that politicians have been promising for years.