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Curfew enters second day in Iraq

Heavily armed police and soldiers enforced an unusual daytime curfew for the second day in a row.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 14:16 IST

Heavily armed police and soldiers enforced an unusual daytime curfew for the second day in a row on Saturday, after stepped-up security measures and appeals from religious leaders blunted sectarian violence that claimed more than 140 lives across Iraq.

The curfew kept many vehicles and pedestrians off Baghdad streets Saturday, but was not enforced as rigorously as the previous day, when authorities feared that the main prayer service of the week would draw attacks and stoke sectarian anger.

Black-clad militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew from the streets of Baghdad's teeming Shiite Sadr City slum, leaving security in the hands of police checkpoints. Shops and businesses opened as usual, and the streets were full of people.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari reached out to Sunnis and Shiites on Friday, promising to rebuild the Shiites' Askariya shrine in Samarra and Sunni mosques damaged in two days of reprisal attacks.

U.S. President George W. Bush joined in calling for calm, saying "This is a moment of choosing for the Iraqi people."

But tension remained high following Wednesday's destruction of a famed Shiite shrine, as did the threat of more attacks.

Late on Friday, the Iraqi government announced another daytime curfew until 4 p.m. on Saturday in Baghdad and the flashpoint provinces of Babil, Diyala and Salaheddin, where the shrine bombing took place.

And the U.S. military said it would carry out additional security patrols for another 48 hours. The curfew prevented many people from reaching mosques Friday, but people were allowed to walk to neighborhood services, many of which were guarded by Iraqi police and soldiers.

Preachers at several leading mosques urged their followers to maintain calm for the sake of the nation, and a number of demonstrations were held calling for Shiite-Sunni unity.

First Published: Feb 25, 2006 14:16 IST