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Iraq govt closes Baghdad Friday to stem violence

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Feb 23 (Reuters) The Iraqi government will impose a daytime curfew on Baghdad and three surrounding provinces tomorrow in an effort to avert sectarian clashes on the Muslim day of prayer, government sources said today.

A overnight curfew will be extended until 4 p.m. (1830 hrs IST) and police will arrest those who take to the streets, even to go to mosques, sources in the prime minister's office and the Interior Ministry told Reuters after two days of sectarian violence between Shi'ites and minority Sunni Muslims.

Officials had been forecasting protest marches from both camps and U.S., U.N. and Iraqi leaders have been speaking out on the need for calm to prevent a descent into civil war.

The curfew will also affect the religiously mixed provinces of Salahaddin, Diyala and Babil to the north, east and south of the capital and the city's airport will be closed. An official announcement would be made later, the sources said.

''No one should move,'' one source said. ''Police will detain anyone who goes out, even to go to prayers.'' The draconian measure came as residents in at least two areas around the capital reported heavy clashes. At least 130 people have been killed, according to official tallies, since a suspected al Qaeda bomb destroyed the Golden Mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines.

Dozens of Sunni mosques have been attacked in reprisals.

Reuters PDS VP0320

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