Top Shia cleric Sistani endorses Iraq protests
Iraq's revered Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Friday endorsed the protests engulfing the country, and called on the government to heed them "before it's too late."
Speaking through a representative, Sistani said the government "must do what it can to improve public services, find work for the unemployed, end clientelism, deal with the corruption issue and send those implicated in it to prison".
"The government must change its approach in dealing with the country's problems," the cleric said, adding that lawmakers also bore a heavy responsibility.
Sistani wields huge influence within Iraq's Shia majority community, among whom the deadly protests of the past four days have been concentrated.
Celebratory gunfire sounded around Baghdad as Sistani's endorsement was relayed to protesters.
Earlier on Friday, security forces fired live rounds at protesters as they continued anti-government demonstrations in the country's capital.
The death toll from the protests rose by nine on Friday, bringing the number of deaths this week to 42.
|Read more: Why are people protesting in Iraq?|
The unrest is the most serious challenge for the year-old government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. The government has also been caught in the middle of increasing US-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
The mostly leaderless protests have been concentrated in Baghdad and in predominantly Shia areas of southern Iraq, bringing out jobless youths and university graduates who are suffering under an economy reeling from graft and mismanagement.