Iraqi medical and security officials say 10 more protesters have been killed in the capital Baghdad, raising the death toll in four days of protests to 53.
The officials said nine people were killed Friday afternoon in Baghdad’s central area of Gailani, near Tahrir Square where the protests in the capital have been concentrated.
The officials added that one person was also killed in Baghdad’s southern neighborhood of Zaafaraniya. The figure raises to 11 the number of people killed in Baghdad Friday.
Earlier on Friday, Iraq’s premier urged anti-government protesters to go home, saying their “legitimate demands” have been heard and comparing security measures imposed in the wake of this week’s demonstrations to “bitter medicine” that needs to be swallowed.
Dozens of protesters defied his message, gathering shortly before noon near Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square. Many had camped out on the streets overnight.
Security forces responded by firing live bullets to disperse the crowd near Tahrir.
Since Tuesday, security forces have fired live rounds and tear gas every day to disperse protesters demanding job opportunities, improved services and an end to corruption.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi spoke in a televised address to the nation, broadcast at 2:30 a.m., about the demonstrations that have spread across many provinces in the country.
The rallies have erupted spontaneously, mostly spurred by youths wanting jobs, improved services such as electricity and water, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country. Authorities have also cut Internet access in much of Iraq since late Wednesday, in a desperate move to curb the rallies.
“We will not make empty promises … or promise what we cannot achieve,” said Abdul-Mahdi, who hails from Nasiriyah. He said there is “no magic solution” to Iraq’s problems but pledged to work on laws granting poor families a basic income, provide alternative housing to violators and fight corruption.
“The security measures we are taking, including temporary curfew, are difficult choices. But like bitter medicine, they are inevitable,” he said. “We have to return life to normal in all provinces and respect the law.”
The prime minister also defended the nation’s security forces, saying they abide by strict rules against use of “excessive violence” and that it was the escalation of the protests that leads to violence.
He also said, without elaborating, that he “regrets some have successfully derailed some of the protests from their peaceful path” in order to “exploit” the violence for political reasons.
The unrest is the most serious challenge for Abdul-Mahdi’s year-old government, which also 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.—AFP