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Deadly clashes after British chopper crashes in Iraq

AFP

basra51.jpg

May 6, 2006

BASRA, Iraq (AFP) - At least five Iraqis were killed and dozens wounded when British troops sent to recover their dead from a crashed helicopter clashed with an angry mob in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Two children were among the Iraqi dead, police Lieutenant Haider Abdel Mahdi said, while an AFP correspondent at the crash site saw at least two British servicemen burned inside the still-flaming helicopter.

Britain's defense minister confirmed that "a number" of British forces had died in the crash, but refused to speculate on whether the chopper had been shot down.

The helicopter crashed at 11:55 am (0745 GMT) Saturday in a residential neighborhood of Basra's central Al-Rabbat district, with local police saying it was brought down by an insurgent rocket.

It was not immediately known whether the crash killed any Iraqis on the ground.

As British troops arrived at the site to recover the crew and the wreckage, hundreds of people gathered and started pelting the soldiers with stones and petrol bombs.

The AFP correspondent said an armed mob also fired rockets at military vehicles, setting fire to two tanks and a Land Rover.

One soldier was also wounded by shrapnel and an AFP photographer at the site was also hit in the leg by a rubber-coated bullet, he said.

Dozens of British military vehicles swiftly arrived at the site, while helicopters and aircraft were seen hovering above the crash site, the correspondent reported.

He said the crowd were seen throwing bottles full of petrol at the burning tanks and the Land Rover.

"Our guys are still taking some petrol bombs," British military spokesman Major Sebastian Muntz told AFP. "Our troops are on the ground at the crash site and some vehicles have been set ablaze."

Muntz however said the clashes were restricted to only "the area where the chopper crashed."

"I have had no reports of clashes spreading anywhere else in the city."

Meanwhile, London said several British soldiers were killed in the crash.

Defense Minister Des Browne said "at this early stage I can confirm the tragic deaths of a number of British service personnel."

"The cause of the crash remains unclear. Together with the Iraqi emergency services, British forces are securing the crash site, which will help to ensure a thorough investigation of all possible causes of the incident," he said in a statement.

"I would urge people not to speculate on what may have happened until the situation in Basra is calmer and we are able to establish the facts," he said.

Britain has some 8,000 soldiers deployed in and around Basra. Not including the death toll from Saturday, it has lost 104 soldiers, 79 of them in combat operations, since joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Basra has been relatively calm compared to the northern parts of Iraq where the US military is based, but British troops have often clashed with the local authorities or the Shiite militias in the city.

Roadside bombs are also a fairly regular occurrence.

Earlier this year the British military detained several policemen in Basra suspecting them of corruption. The move triggered police protests and the suspension of ties with British forces by Basra city counci


:: Article nr. 23111 sent on 06-may-2006 23:56 ECT

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Link: asia.news.yahoo.com/060506/afp/060506164353int.html



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