Pope slams Iraq's 'harsh' crackdown on anti-government protesters
“I am following the situation in Iraq with concern. It is with pain that I have learned of the protest demonstrations of the past days that were met with a harsh response, causing tens of victims,” Francis said at his weekly Sunday speech.
The Pope, who expressed his intentions to visit Iraq next year, said he was praying for those killed and wounded in the ongoing crackdown on protests in the country, before invoking God for peace in Iraq.
Protests erupted in the capital Baghdad and across Iraq's Shia-majority south in early October against endemic corruption, economic mismanagement and poor public services, since growing to demand the ousting of the government accused of being beholden to foreign powers.
The message came as protesters across Iraq took to the streets on Sunday to mourn demonstrators killed in anti-government rallies, even turning out in Sunni areas where people have previously avoided joining in.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s parliament formally accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Sunday afternoon, triggering the race to find a new leader as demonstrations rage on across Iraq.
Abdul Mahdi submitted his letter of resignation to parliament on Saturday after an uptick in bloody violence that witnessed the deaths of almost 70 demonstrators.
Najaf witnessed a fresh bout of violence in recent days as security forces and armed men in civilian clothes tried to snuff out rallies after demonstrators torched the Iranian consulate, leaving more than 20 protesters dead.
More than 20 demonstrators were killed in the holy city this week, with at least 31 more killed by security forces in the southern city of Nasiriyah, the birthplace of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Protests erupted in Iraq in early October, with the mostly young and Shia population of the capital and country's south voicing anger with endemic corruption and economic mismanagement.
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The demonstrations have swollen in size, scope and fury since then, with protesters targeting symbols of Iranian influence and calling for a new government.
Iraqis have been faced by a brutal crackdown in what amounts to the country's biggest crisis since Islamic State group militants seized large swathes of the country five years ago. More than 420 people killed and 15,000 wounded so far, according to an AFP tally.