Iraq's Sistani urges restraint to avoid protest 'chaos'
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's Shia Muslim spiritual leader, on Friday urged protesters and security forces to exercise "restraint" to prevent anti-government demonstrations descending into "chaos".
Sistani's weekly sermon was delivered by his representatives shortly after two demonstrators died in renewed protests in Baghdad on Friday.
He called on demonstrators to stay peaceful and said security forces should "deal with them with the utmost restraint."
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"The authority's insistence that protests must remain peaceful, without any violence, stems not only from its interest in keeping protesters and security forces from being hurt but also from its extreme care for the country's future," he said.
"Chaos and ruin," he warned, would "pave the way for more external interference".
His sermon appeared to echo the package of reforms put forward by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, including an anti-corruption campaign, a job creation drive and improved social welfare.
Sistani, who is widely revered among Iraq's Shia majority, had given Abdel Mahdi until 25 October to respond to protester demands to fight corruption and unemployment.
In a televised speech late Friday, Abdel Mahdi defended his reform plans.
Iraqi police fired live shots into the air as well as rubber bullets and dozens of tear gas canisters to disperse thousands of protesters on the streets of Baghdad.
The protesters are demanding jobs, improved services and an end to corruption.
The protests are a continuation of the economically-driven demonstrations that began in early October and turned deadly as security forces cracked down, using live ammunition.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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