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Baghdad (AFP) Dec 31, 2012
The Iraqi authorities on Monday called for an end to what a senior official said were illegal and illegitimate protest rallies in Sunni-majority provinces that have cut key trade routes.
The remarks released by the office of Ali al-Alaak, cabinet secretary general, came as protests blocking a key highway linking Iraq to Syria and Jordan entered a ninth day and authorities north of Baghdad declared general strikes.
The protests were sparked by the arrest on December 20 of at least nine of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi's guards, and have spurred allegations that the Shiite-led government uses anti-terror legislation to target the Sunni minority.
A statement posted on Alaak's office website acknowledged that the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, assembly and dissent, but added that such freedoms must be practised "in a way that does not oppose public order."
"These should not be carried out without the knowledge of authorities and their permission," it said. "What is happening now... is breaking the law and the constitution."
It said government employees must disregard a call from provincial authorities for a general strike aimed at pushing for the release of prisoners.
"All government offices in the provinces should not obey these illegitimate orders, or they will be held legally responsible," it said.
Nineveh province's three-day general strike extends to Tuesday, while Samarra, in Salaheddin province, began its own strike on Monday.
Protesters in Anbar province, meanwhile, blocked off the country's main highway to Syria and Jordan for a ninth straight day.
Death toll in Iraq attacks rises to 22: officials
A total of 15 shootings and bombings struck 13 cities and towns in the north, central and south of Iraq, the officials said. Previously, the toll was put at 12 dead and more than 40 wounded.
In the deadliest attack, seven people -- three women, two children and two men -- were killed when three houses were blown up in the town of Mussayib, south of Baghdad, police and a medic said. Four others were wounded.
Five policemen were killed by a roadside bomb in Kirkuk, four people died in a suicide car bomb in Baghdad, and attacks in the cities of Hilla and Mosul killed two people each.
One person each was killed in Latifiyah and Tuz Khurmatu.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants such as Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq regularly target officials and security forces in a bid to destabilise the government, and also often attack Shiite pilgrims.
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
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