Protests worry Middle East governments

Thousands rally across Iraq in anti-government demonstrations, while in Yemen, soldiers opened fire on protesters. Rarely seen protests are also taking place in Saudi Arabia.

Even Saudi Arabia experiences small protests as region heats up

Iraqi police officers block anti-government protesters from entering the provincial headquarters in Basra. ((Nabil al-Jurani/Associated Press))

Thousands rallied across Iraq on Friday in anti-government demonstrations that defied security checkpoints. In Yemen, anti-government protesters came under fire from soldiers. Rarely seen protests also took place in Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq, it was the second Friday in a row of demonstrations — a show of force that has unnerved Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which is worried that the turmoil in the rest of the region is spreading to its territory.

Most of the protests were peaceful, but police used water cannons against demonstrators in the southern port city of Basra and beat some journalists covering the demonstrations.

Inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the rallies concentrated on demands for improved government services, better pay and an end to corruption in Iraq.

They also reflected the level of unhappiness many Iraqis feel nearly eight years after Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Rare protests in Saudi Arabia

Protests also occurred in Saudi Arabia on Friday, although not nearly on the scale seen in other areas of the Middle East and North Africa.

In the eastern city of Hofuf, about 100 protested the arrest earlier this week of a cleric who reportedly called for a constitutional monarchy in a land where the King holds absolute power.

The CBC's Laura Lynch witnessed that protest and was one of at least three journalists who were briefly detained and questioned by Saudi authorities on Friday.

"There are no violent clashes, though police eventually forced the demonstrators to leave, pushing them down the street," she reported.

Lynch said that on Thursday, about 200 men and women gathered farther north in the coastal town of Qatif. They wanted the release of seven men who have been in prison for 16 years without trial.

There are signs the government is concerned, Lynch reported.

"In the last two days, large numbers of police have been seen in the cities where protests have been held, and checkpoints have been erected on the roads," she said.

Protesters under fire in Yemen

In Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has rejected protesters' demands that he step down, soldiers opened fire at anti-government protesters in the country's north on Friday, killing four people and wounding seven, according to witnesses.

They said the shooting occurred as the soldiers tried to disperse thousands who took to the main street in Amran city for a collective Friday prayer.

Inspired by the overthrow of the regime in Tunisia, demonstrators have been gathering in Yemeni cities for the past three weeks to demand an end to Saleh's 32-year rule.

Most of the violence, claiming more than 30 lives, has been reported in the southern port of Aden and in the capital, Sana'a.

Last month Saleh said he would not run for election when his term ends in 2013.

In talks on Wednesday, opposition groups handed Saleh a proposal that would give him until the end of the year to formulate a clear exit strategy.

The opposition also demanded that he not hand power over to his son, Ahmed Saleh, or other relatives. In addition, the plan calls for new election laws to ensure fair representation in parliament and the right to protest peacefully.

Egypt's new PM gets warm welcome

In Egypt, another sign emerged on Friday that a change in leadership could bring real political reform. Thousands of Egyptians welcomed their new prime minister as he addressed them in Tahrir Square, scene of the uprising that led to the fall of President Hosni Mubarak last month.

Egypt's newly named prime minister, Essam Sharaf, is greeted by supporters after giving a speech at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday. ((Khalil Hamra/Associated Press))

Former transport minister Essam Sharaf, named prime minister by the Military Supreme Council on Thursday, urged people in the crowd to give him time to work through opposition demands for reform, and said he had come "to draw legitimacy" from them.

"You have achieved a great task, and the bigger objective is to rebuild Egypt," he said. "Raise your heads up — you're Egyptian."

Sharaf referred to protesters as "martyrs" of revolution and said it's important that the country's security forces work "for the good of the citizens."

Mubarak resigned and handed control to the military on Feb. 11 after 29 years in power, bowing to a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands.

Sharaf, who served in the cabinet for 18 months between 2004 and the end of 2005, endeared himself to the youth groups by visiting them in central Tahrir, or Liberation Square.

An engineer, Sharaf also appeared to fit the image of a professional civil servant who after leaving office founded a group of like-minded scientists called "the age of science."

His appointment coincided with the military's firing of Ahmed Shafiq, sworn in by Mubarak just days before the president resigned.

Shafiq's departure was a key demand of protesters, who continue to seek other changes, such as an end to the long-standing emergency law and the release of political prisoners.

The Tunisian uprising in January that saw the ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali touched off the wave of similar demonstrations and rebellions in the Middle East and North Africa.

On Friday, Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia's newly appointed prime minister, said he hopes to form a new interim government within two days.

With files from The Associated Press