Iraq protesters return to the streets for 'million-man' march
Demonstrations were widespread in Baghdad, Karbala, Basra, Dhi Qar and Qadisiyya on Friday, but clashes between riot police and protesters in the capital proved deadly.
Protesters in the capital faced off with security forces on bridges crossing the Tigis river, with riot police firing off tear gas and live rounds to prevent them from crossing over to the highly securitised Green Zone, which houses parliament, the prime minister's office, a number of ministries and the central bank - as well as foreign embassies.
At least three people were killed by Friday afternoon, two by live fire and one by trauma injuries sustained by a tear gas canister.
Iraq's most influential Shia Muslim authority reitirated his call for Baghdad to submit to protesters' demands, urging electoral reform amid the continuing mass demonstrations in the capital Baghdad and the country's south.
"We affirm the importance of speeding up the passing of the electoral law and the electoral commission law because this represents the country moving past the big crisis," the representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said during a sermon in Karbala.
Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics, had previously endorsed the demonstrations by urging the formation of a new government made up of qualified experts.
Demonstrators gathered overnight in the capital and the southern city of Nassiriyah, retaining their positions in Baghdad's protest-hub squares and bridges despite being faced by tear gas and live fire from security forces.
|Click to enlarge|
Protesters who had blocked the entrance to Iraq's main Gulf port Umm Qasr in the southern city of Basra were forcibly dispersed on Friday morning.
Employees were able to enter the port but normal operations have not yet resumed, port officials told Reuters.
Demonstrators had blocked the entrance to the port since Monday for the second time over the past month. A previous protest action saw the port closed for 10 days.
The initial blockage cost import-dependent Baghdad more than $6 billion during the first week of closure, a government official said at the time.
At least 10 people were killed overnight on Thursday, officials said on Friday, adding that over 100 people had been wounded.
Human rights organisations have condemned Iraqi security forces for their violent crackdown on dissent, with Amnesty International slamming the alleged use of military-grade tear gas grenades against protesters.
At least 340 people have been killed and thousands wounded since the unrest began in October.
The anti-government demonstrators present the biggest threat so far to the political system ushered in by the US-led invasion which toppled the regime of longtime dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Protesters blame that system for rampant corruption, staggering unemployment rates and poor services in resource-rich Iraq, OPEC's second-biggest producer.
Agencies contributed to this report