5 killed in renewed anti-government demonstrations in Iraq
2-day curfew lifted in Baghdad, but access roads to major squares remain blocked
Iraqi officials say five people have been killed in renewed anti-government protests in the Iraqi capital after security forces fired on them on a fifth day of unrest.
Health and police officials said one protester was killed Saturday in the Zafaraniya neighbourhood in south Baghdad, and 13 were wounded. In central Baghdad, four protesters were killed.
The protests came after a two-day curfew was lifted in the city. Iraqi religious leaders have appealed for calm and while politicians were scrambling to contain the unprecedented, public expression of anger.
Since the start of the protests on Tuesday, security forces have responded with live ammunition and tear gas, leaving more than 70 people killed and hundreds injured in Baghdad and other southern cities.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in two southern cities and set fires on Saturday, according to Iraqi officials.
An Iraqi security official and a rights commission official say protesters in Nasiriyah set ablaze the offices of two political parties in the restive southern city.
Officials said security forces responded with gunfire, but there was no immediate word on casualties. The officials described the protest as "very large." In another southern city, Diwaniyah, protesters marched toward local government offices. There were no reports of violence there.
Traffic ran as normal through the Iraqi capital and streets and main squares were otherwise quiet on Saturday Concrete barriers blocked off areas where protesters in their thousands clashed with police during the week.
Officials from Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's office met protest leaders from Baghdad and other provinces to discuss their demands, state television reported. Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih said they would seek to meet the demands, state television also reported, but gave no details how exactly they would respond.
Authorities did not say why the curfew was lifted.
The country's parliament speaker proposed on Friday improving public housing for the poor and job opportunities for young people, as well as holding those who had killed protesters to account.
The unrest is the deadliest that Iraq has seen since the declared defeat of the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2017 and has shaken Abdul Mahdi's year-old government. The government has responded with vague reform promises that are unlikely to placate Iraqis.
The semi-official High Commission for Human Rights said security forces had detained hundreds of people for demonstrating but then let most of them go. It said more than 3,000 people had been wounded in days of violence.
Police snipers shot at protesters on Friday, Reuters reporters said, escalating violent tactics used by the security forces that have included live fire, tear gas and water cannons.
The security forces have accused gunmen of hiding among demonstrators to shoot at police. Several policeman have died.
The protests over unfair distribution of jobs, lack of services and government corruption erupted on Tuesday in Baghdad and quickly spread to other Iraqi cities, mainly in the south.
Powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a mass popular following and controls a large chunk of parliament, demanded on Friday that the government resign and snap elections be held. At least one other major parliamentary grouping allied itself with Sadr against the government.
Parliament was set to meet on Saturday to discuss protesters' demands. Sadr's bloc has said it will boycott the session.
Travel warnings issued
Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain have advised their citizens to avoid travelling to Iraq, and anyone who is there is being asked to leave the country immediately.
Global Affairs Canada is also warning Canadians not to travel to Iraq due to the "continued volatile, unpredictable and potentially dangerous security situation.
"If you are in Iraq, consider departing by commercial means if it is safe to do so," said an advisory issued Thursday.
With files from The Associated Press