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Iraq's southern Nasiriya refinery said to shut over protests

[BAGHDAD] Iraq, Opec's second-biggest producer, shut operations at its southern Nasiriya refinery after protesters marched into the facility, according to a person familiar with the operations.

Operations were halted at 7pm local time after about 700 protesters blocked employee access into the refinery in the southern province of Thiqar, the person said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The facility refines between 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day with products ranging from gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene used mostly in the province. The cut in output may lead to a shortage for the area.

Protesters - mostly made up of the unemployed that also include recent graduates from the province -- have rallied repeatedly in the past two months near the southern oil fields in Basra and other cities and near refineries.

The oil ministry on Saturday had to shut the southern Nasiriya oil field after protesters cut roads leading to the area, blocking access to employees, ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said in a statement. Basra fields were pumping more to make up for the loss of about 80,000 to 85,000 barrels a day from Nasiriya, he said.

Around 500 people have died and more than 22,000 others wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters since Oct 1. Iraqis, mostly from the Shiite majority population, are protesting against issues including corruption and poor services, calling for an overhaul of the ruling class.

BLOOMBERG