The death toll from three-days of mass anti-government protests in Iraq has risen to 34, with hundreds of others wounded as authorities extended a curfew to several southern cities, security officials and activists said on Thursday.
The fatalities included 31 protesters and three security officers, as clashes erupted between demonstrators and security forces, Ali Akram al-Bayati, a member of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq, told CNN.
At least 1,518 people have been injured, including 423 Iraqi security personnel, he added.
The protests, which marked the largest to date against Mahdi’s fragile government, were organised to decry a host of problems that plague the daily life of many Iraqis, among them corruption, a lack of services and unemployment.
Earlier in the day, Iraq Prime Minister Adil Abd Mahdi called an emergency security meeting to discuss the “unfortunate events,” according to a statement released by his office.
“The Council stressed that appropriate measures should be taken to protect citizens and public and private properties,” the statement said, adding that the government will make all efforts to meet the legitimate demands of the demonstrators.
Protests were also reported in the cities of Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, and Basra.
Many of the protesters in Baghdad held photographs of one of the country’s most famous war heroes, Lt Gen Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a former head of Iraq’s counterterrorism force who led the fight to defeat the Islamic State.
Saadi’s removal from his post last week followed weeks of speculation that militia groups loyal to neighbouring Iran had pushed for his departure. The United Nations has called for restraint after violent anti-government protests gripped the Iraqi capital and other provinces of the Middle East country.
“The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert calls for calm, and deeply regrets the casualties among both the protesters and security forces,” the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in a statement cited by Xinhua news agency.
Hennis-Plasschaert also urged the Iraqi authorities to “exercise restraint in their handling of the protests to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters while upholding law and order and protecting the people, public and private property.”
“Every individual has the right to speak freely, in keeping with the law,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.
(With ANI Inputs)