Protesters in Iraq met by tanks

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The protest in the capital turned violent as some supporters of radical leader Moqtada Sadr threw themselves at the US tanks and a police officer said at least two of the demonstrators had been crushed.

Huge protests were also held in the central pilgrimage city of Najaf and as far south as Amara.

In Najaf, Sadr supporters took to the streets reacting to rumours that Spanish coalition soldiers had detained Mustafa Yaacubi, the head of his office in the city.

Spanish commanders “categorically” denied the claim. The protestors dismissed the denial, demanding the release of Yaacubi.

Sheikh Qais al-Khazaali, the head of Sadr’s office in Baghdad, warned that his movement would react if Yaacubi was not quickly released.

Earlier, three Salvadoran soldiers were shot and wounded as they tried to disarm what the San Salvador press described as pro-Sadr militiamen in Kufa, just outside Najaf.

This weekend’s demonstrations mark a sharp escalation of the radical leader’s campaign of opposition to the US-led occupation.

UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to return to Baghdad within two days to discuss the coalition’s plans to transfer power to a caretaker government by June 30 and hold elections by the end of January.