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Anti-government protests continue in Iraq as death toll rises to 63

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A protester chants anti-corruption slogans during a protest at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, on Saturday. Xinhua

BAGHDAD (Xinhua) – Hundreds of demonstrators continued their protests Saturday in Baghdad and some provinces in southern and central Iraq over deteriorated living conditions, leaving up to 63 people died and more than 2,500 others wounded.

Following Friday’s protests in Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad on the eastern side of the Tigris River, dozens of the demonstrators spent their night in sit-in tents to resume the protests on Saturday morning and repeated their attempts to cross the nearby al-Jumhouriyah Bridge to reach the Green Zone, but were prevented by the concrete blocks and riot police.

The last attempt to cross the bridge was around the sunset, when the riot police heavily fired tear gas canisters and sound bombs to disperse the demonstrators and managed to push them back out of Tahrir Square in the surrounding neighborhoods, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua.

Afterwards, the riot police dismantled the sit-in tents after clashes with the protesters, the source said.

The protests also continued in other cities in several southern and central provinces, including Dhi Qar, Maysan, Diwaniya, Basra and some other provinces, where protesters called for reform, accountability for corrupt people and job opportunities.

The Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) said in the latest statement that up to 63 people killed in two days of anti-government protests in Baghdad and other provinces, while 2,592 others wounded, mainly in Baghdad where 1,794 people wounded.

The IHCHR said that 83 government buildings and parties’ headquarters were burned or damaged in the provinces of Diwaniyah, Maysan, Wasit, Dhi Qar, Basra, Muthanna, Babil and Karbala.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament failed in the afternoon to convene for an emergency session to discuss the ongoing turmoil for lack of quorum, as only some 90 lawmakers were present out of 329.

Also in the day, the Interior Ministry said in a statement that security force “secured the demonstrations sites with responsibility and high restraint by not using weapons or excessive force towards the demonstrators at all.”

It said that the security forces suffered from casualties as a result of attacks against the security forces with gun fire, hand grenades and stones.

The statement “strongly condemned the arson of public institutions, headquarters and citizens’ homes,” and confirmed that the law considers the attackers as criminal, who must severely be punished and have nothing to do with peaceful demonstrations.

For its part, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) confirmed in a statement that “a few saboteurs took advantage of these demonstrations and killed security members and citizens, injuring others, burning and looting public and private property, as well as seeking to attack prisons to release prisoners.”

The JOC warned that such acts will be confronted by the security forces firmly in accordance with the Anti-Terrorism Law, the statement said.

The new wave of demonstrations came after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi made a televised speech, in which he warned of chaos if the government resigns, and promised a cabinet reshuffle, more job opportunities and the establishment of a court to prosecute corrupt officials.

Earlier this month, massive protests erupted in Baghdad and other central and southern provinces for similar reasons.

The Iraqi government responded by presenting packages of reforms aimed at providing job opportunities, building housing complexes, paying stipends to the poor and scaling up the fight against corruption.

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