RAMADI: Thousands of protesters from Iraq's Sunni minority poured onto the streets after Friday prayers in a show of force against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, keeping up a week-long blockade of a major highway. More than 60,000 people blocked the main road through Fallujah, 50km west of the capital, setting fire to the flag of Shi'ite Iran and shouting "out, out Iran! Baghdad stays free" and "Maliki you coward, don't take your advice from Iran".
Many Sunnis accuse Al Maliki of refusing to share power and of being under the sway of its non-Arab neighbour.
"We will not leave this place until all our demands are fulfilled, including the toppling of the Al Maliki government," said 31-year-old Omar Al Dahal at a protest in Ramadi, where more than 100,000 protesters blocked the highway that leads to Syria and Jordan.
Activists' demands include an end to the marginalisation of Sunnis, the abolition of anti-terrorism laws they say are used to target them and the release of detainees.
Protests flared last week in Anbar province, the Sunni stronghold in western Iraq where demonstrators have mounted the blockades, after troops loyal to Al Maliki, who is a Shi'ite, detained bodyguards of his Finance Minister Rafaie Al Esawi, a Sunni.
Demonstrations were also held in the northern city of Mosul and in Samarra, where protesters chanted "the people want to bring down the regime".
A masked protester recalled the role of Anbar's tribes, first in fighting US troops before allying with them to drive militants out - turning on fellow Sunni Al Qaeda because of its indiscriminate use of violence.
"Just as we terrified the Americans with this mask, and kicked Al Qaeda out, we will terrify the government with it," he said.