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Iraqis demand release of religious leader

By GHASSAN AL-KADI

BAGHDAD, June 3 (UPI) -- Protests against U.S. actions in Iraq continued Tuesday in the streets of Baghdad with some 3,000 Muslim religious students demanding the release of a Shiite cleric rounded up by U.S. occupation forces last weekend.

The students were led by Sunni as well as Shiite Muslim clerics who demanded that U.S. authorities free Sheik Jassem al-Saedi, who was taken from his Baghdad house by U.S. troops on Sunday.

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The protesters also demanded the formation of a transitional government representing all Iraqi factions, sects and ethnic groups and denounced U.S. raids on the houses of Muslims and their places of worship.

They threatened as well to cut off the hands of U.S. soldiers if they tried to body search Iraqi women and vowed not to surrender their weapons as long as U.S. occupation lasted.

Also Tuesday, former employees of the information ministry marched in the streets of the Iraqi capital urging the U.S. authorities to give them back their jobs. The protesters demonstrated in front of the presidential palace where the U.S. civil administrator Paul Bremer has set up his offices.

Bremer last week dissolved the defense and information ministries in addition to the Iraqi army and security apparatuses. In the following days officers and soldiers took to the streets to protest Bremer's action.

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Hamdiya Abdel Karim, a former producer at the official radio station, lashed out Tuesday at Bremer's decision to dismantle the information ministry saying it was a most unjust and wrong move.

"We are not politicians, not members of the Baath party, we are media people who have followed that profession for many years," she told United Press International.

Aida Ibrahim, a drama producer at Iraqi television, said the U.S. troops were taking it out on innocent people who had nothing to do with the toppled Baath regime.

"We were victims under the former regime and here we are victims again as a result of Bremer's unjust and arbitrary decisions," she said.

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