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Iraq - Protests

Iraq death toll nears 100 despite cleric's call to calm protests

Anti-government protesters hit the streets of Baghdad in defiance of a curfew.
Anti-government protesters hit the streets of Baghdad in defiance of a curfew. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Nearly 100 people have now been killed in Iraq's mass protests, according to parliament's human right's office. The sharp rise in the death toll came after huge Friday demonstrations continued into Saturday, marking a fifth straight day of violence.

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Ninety-three people were confirmed dead, with nearly 4,000 injured since the demonstrations broke out, the human rights commission said early Saturday. It was not immediately clear if the latest deaths came on Friday or Saturday.

Thousands of mostly young men have taken to the streets across the country to denounce government corruption, dire public services and unemployment.

Just hours after Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, warned both sides to end the violence, security forces opened fire on crowds in central Baghdad Friday, killing at least 17 people.

Water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets have also been used against protesters, who have been rallying against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s fragile government since Tuesday.

An internet blackout has been put in place to stop protesters from exchanging messages and posting footage online.

Mahdi has appealed for calm, saying the protesters’ “legitimate” demands were “being heard”. The unrest is seen as Mahdi’s first major challenge since he came to power nearly a year ago.

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