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Angry Iraqis ready mobile phone boycott

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) May 8, 2011
Amid a wave of demonstrations across the Middle East, angry Iraqi mobile phone users are organising their own protest -- a boycott of the Kuwaiti mobile phone operator Zain.

After persistently poor mobile phone coverage in Iraq, a small group of activists in e-mail chains and Facebook groups are looking to convince customers to switch off their phones for a day on May 21.

"We are demanding to end this one percent of Iraqis' suffering," Haidar Sabr, a civil servant and one of the boycott's organisers, told AFP, alluding to Iraqis' daily struggles for electricity and clean water.

"It sounds like a simple matter but it''s an important one when it comes down to it," Sabr said ahead of the action, which echoes boycotts in Lebanon over pricey mobile services.

Sabr's group on Facebook and multiple others have so far logged around 200 users, though it was impossible to verify how many users were based in Iraq. E-mail chains and message board postings have also voiced support for the May 21 protest.

Zain's Iraq arm did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.

The mobile phone operator has nearly 10 million subscribers nationwide, according to its website.

In February 2010, both Zain and rival operator Asiacell were called on to either improve their services or pay their full licence fees in advance, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars at the time.

The government said an official committee review of both companies had found their services had deteriorated, citing poor voice quality and limited network coverage.

Callers also complained of needing to dial a number more than once to get through.

And the previous year, the government slapped fines totalling more than 20 million dollars on Zain, Asiacell and Korek, a third cell phone operator, for poor service and for failure to honour contracts.

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