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Death toll in Iraq anti-government protests rises above 100

Baghdad has been at the centre of protests that quickly spread to the country’s south.

Motorists pass a fire lit by anti-government protesters in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Motorists pass a fire lit by anti-government protesters in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Associated Press

Almost 100 anti-government protesters and eight members of the security forces have been killed during anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and the south of Iraq.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said that 6,107 protesters and more than 1,200 security personnel have been wounded in the unrest.

Soldiers fired in the direction of about 300 anti-government protesters gathered in a suburb of the Iraqi capital on the sixth day of unrest.

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Iraqi Army troops deployed in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

The protests on Sunday came after a bloody night in Baghdad, where 19 people were killed when security forces used live ammunition to break up the demonstrators.

Baghdad has been at the centre of protests that quickly spread to the country’s south.

At least 104 people have been killed, including more than 50 in Baghdad, since Tuesday.

Saad Maan, a spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry, said an investigation was under way to determine the source of live fire that killed many of the more than 100 people who had died since the unrest began.

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A fire lit by anti-government protesters during the ongoing protests in Baghdad (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Mr Maan said on Sunday that local security forces did not clash with protesters.

He added at a press conference that “malicious hands” had been targeting protesters and security forces on Friday as well, the bloodiest day of the unrest in Baghdad.

At the time, protests were broken up as security forces fired live ammunition at the anti-government rallies.

Protesters and journalists at the scene of the protests said they witnessed security forces firing on demonstrators and some protesters said snipers were taking part in breaking up the protests.

Mr Maad said most of those killed on Friday had been hit in the head and heart.

The protests began with demands for jobs and an end to corruption, and now include calls for justice for those killed in the protests.

Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on protesters to end their street rallies, saying on Saturday that he was ready to meet with them to hear their demands.

He said there were orders for the security forces not to use live ammunition, only allowed in strict cases of self-defence.

By Sunday afternoon, the protesters, mostly young men, were scattered in side streets near Sadr City.

Security forces have boosted their presence in central Baghdad, deploying as far as Sadr city, about 4km (2.5 miles) away from Tahrir Square.

The square, now sealed off, has been the centre of the protests since they erupted on Tuesday.

Army troops blocked a main road preventing the protesters from advancing.

Soldiers then fired towards the protesters in an apparent attempt push them back.

After about an hour, there was more intense gunfire as protesters persisted in trying to advance.

Responding to the gunfire, some protesters piled over one another trying to hide behind the short wall of a nearby water fountain.

As it continued, protesters set fire to tyres to push the soldiers back.

Some protesters arrived in rickshaws, which have also been used by protesters to carry the wounded from the bloody clashes.

A medical official said five people had been wounded, including some in the feet.

The unrest is the most serious challenge facing Iraq two years after the victory against Islamic State militants.

The chaos also comes at a critical time for the government, which has been caught in the middle of increasing US-Iran tensions in the region.

Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.

The UN envoy for Iraq appealed for an end to the violence and called for those responsible to be held to account.

PA

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