FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - At least three people were killed on Friday when Iraqi troops opened fire during clashes in Falluja city with Sunni protesters rallying against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, officials and witnesses said.
It was the most serious violence since Sunni protesters began taking to the streets in late December to challenge Maliki's Shi'ite-led government and rally against what they see as the marginalization of their minority sect.
"We received three bodies with gunshot wounds in the abdomen, back and shoulder," a hospital source told Reuters.
A Reuters witness at the scene said troops initially fired in the air to disperse crowds, but later some soldiers fired shots at protesters who approached their military vehicles and set one of them on fire.
A local television channel showed demonstrators approaching the army vehicles and throwing stones and water bottles while troops tried to keep them away began firing in the air. But it showed at least one soldier aiming his rifle at demonstrators.
The demonstrations in Falluja, a predominantly Sunni city 50 km (30 miles) north of capital, were part of weekly Friday anti-government rallies in the Iraqi Sunni heartland of Anbar province and other mainly Sunni areas.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion a decade ago, many Iraq Sunnis feel they have been sidelined by the country's Shi'ite leadership and believe Maliki is amassing power at their community's expense.
(Reporting by Kamal Naama in Falluja and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; Writing by Patrick Markey)
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