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Death toll in Baghdad protests rises to 19

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Death toll in Baghdad protests rises to 19

Iraqi protesters continued unreasonable protests against the government in the capital and various provinces on Saturday, setting fire to government offices and ignoring calls for calm from political and religious leaders. Security agencies killed 19 protesters and wounded more than three dozen in a sustained deadly response that has killed more than 80 lives since the riot began.

Iraq's parliamentary affiliate High Commissioner for Human Rights, estimated at 94, said the death toll was 94. It said nearly 4,000 people had been injured since Tuesday, when most young protesters spontaneously start rallies to demand jobs, improvements. in electricity, water and water. other services and the end of corruption in the oil-rich nation.

The violent stalemate presented the conflict-ridden nation with its most serious challenge since the defeat of the Islamic State group two years ago and deepened the political crisis of a country still struggling with the legacy of several unfinished wars since the 2003 US invasion. .

"It was 16 years of corruption and injustice," said Abbas Najm, a 43-year-old unemployed engineer who took part in a demonstration on Saturday in the square. "We are not afraid of bullets or the death of martyrs. We will continue and we will not back down."

Struggling to contain the demonstrations, Iraqi leaders called an emergency session of parliament on Saturday to discuss the protesters' demands. But they had no quorum due to a boycott called by the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the largest bloc in parliament. On Friday, al-Sadr called on Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi's government to resign and hold early elections, saying the Iraqi bloodshed "cannot be ignored."

Abdul-Mahdi said in a speech to the nation that the "legitimate demands" of the protesters were heard, but he defended the deadly response of the security forces as a "bitter medicine" needed for the country to swallow.

In a desperate attempt to curb rising rallies, authorities blocked the internet on Wednesday and imposed a 24-hour curfew on Thursday. The curfew, ignored by protesters, was suspended at 5 am on Saturday morning, allowing shops to open and traffic to flow through most of Baghdad before new demonstrations began.

As in earlier days, protesters hoped to gather until late afternoon, when temperatures were cooler and ensured greater participation, and security forces responded by opening fire.

Health and safety officials said more than a dozen people were killed and about 40 injured in the capital on Saturday when security forces opened fire during protests in several neighborhoods, including central Tahrir Square, which remained closed to cars. and around which special forces and army vehicles deployed in an operation that extended up to 2 km (1.2 miles) away. The forces also released tear gas, said health officials, police and doctors who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to inform reporters.

One protester who declined to be identified for fear of repercussions said riot police opened fire directly on protesters. The military initially tried to stop the police but eventually left the area, the protester said.

At a peaceful minor rally on Saturday in the capital, protesters raised banners demanding Abdul-Mahdi's resignation and an investigation into the killings of protesters.

Thousands of protesters also took to the streets in the southern cities of Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah, challenging the curfew that still exists there. In Diwaniyah, at least one protester was killed when protesters marched toward local government offices, medical and human rights officials said. They did not provide details.

In the restless city of Nasiriyah, protesters set fire to the offices of three political parties and one parliamentarian they blame for the ills of their country. Security forces responded with gunfire, but there was no immediate news of casualties, officials said, who described the protest as "too large."

Abdul Mahdi's office and Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi asked the protest representatives to meet with them so they could hear their demands. At a televised parliament meeting, al-Halbusi met with a group of Iraqis and tribal representatives, mostly in their 50s and above, to discuss the country's numerous problems. Al-Hablusi repeated promises to fight unemployment and poverty.

But the promises did nothing to stop street violence. The deadliest day was Friday, when 22 people were killed in Baghdad. Health officials said many of these victims were injured in the head and chest.

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