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Nine More People Killed In Iraq Protests Despite PM's Call For Calm

Updated

Demonstrators defy a curfew to protest on the streets of Baghdad on October 3.

Nine more Iraqis have reportedly been killed in anti-government protests, bringing this week's overall death toll to 42, mainly in the predominantly Shi'ite south.

Hospital officials say the deaths occurred late on October 3 in Nasiriyah, some 320 kilometers south of Baghdad. The city has witnessed the most violence in the protests, with at least 25 people, including a policeman, killed.

The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Since October 1, security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas every day to disperse protesters demanding job opportunities, improved services, and an end to corruption.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who hails from Nasiriyah, has urged calm.

Mahdi said protesters were "correct" to demand an end to corruption, but he condemned recent unrest as "the destruction of the state."

In a televised speech early on October 4, Mahdi told citizens that "your demands for reforms and the fight against corruption have reached us."

"Demands to fight corruption and concern for the future of young people are rightful demands and we will respond to every legitimate request," he said, adding that the government will not make "empty promises" or short-term remedies.

But he urged people to avoid the "advocates of despair" and resist allowing peaceful protests to lead to chaos.

He cautioned that there was no "magic solution" to endemic graft but vowed to try to pass a law granting poor families a basic income and to reshuffle his cabinet.

At least 42 people have been reported killed in three days of mass anti-government rallies on the streets of Baghdad, where the death toll stood at 16 according to security and hospital sources, and other cities in the south.

Two police officers were among the fatalities, and at least 1,400 people have been injured.

Late on October 3, crowds in the capital converged near the Oil Ministry, with many protesters saying they planned to move on to the city's iconic Tahrir Square.

"We'll keep going until the government falls," Ali, an unemployed, 22-year-old university graduate, told AFP. "I've got nothing but 250 lira [about $0.20] in my pocket while government officials have millions."

Many protesters complained about the high level of youth unemployment, which is near 25 percent -- double the overall jobless rate -- according to the World Bank.

Security forces used automatic weapons on military vehicles to fire at the ground, the bullets ricocheting into the crowd.

The authorities set curfews in the capital and in three other southern provinces.

The unrest is seen as the biggest challenge yet to Mahdi's government.

Amnesty International and the United Nations urged restraint in separate statements.

"It is outrageous that Iraqi security forces time and again deal with protesters with such brutality using lethal and unnecessary force. It is crucial that the authorities ensure a fully independent and impartial investigation," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, told Reuters.

Tensions have been amplified by a near-total Internet blackout, the closure of government offices in Baghdad, and calls by firebrand Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for a "general strike."

During Friday Prayers, Sadr called the protesters deaths "sorrowful" and accused the government and politicians of ignoring the demands of the people.

A double blast hit the Green Zone before dawn on October 3, security sources said. Embassies and some ministries are located in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which was struck by two rockets last week.

The apparent attack came hours after authorities sealed off the Green Zone "until further notice," out of concerns that angry protesters would overrun it.

Approximately 75 percent of Iraq is "offline" after major network operators "intentionally restricted" access, according to cybersecurity monitor NetBlocks.

With Internet access virtually shut off, protesters have had difficulties communicating with each other or posting footage of the latest clashes.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa
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