BAGHDAD: Three Iraqi protesters were killed in the capital as thousands of anti-government demonstrators sought to shut streets across the country on Monday, their deadline for authorities to implement long-awaited reforms.
Rallies have rocked Iraq since October but fearing they would lose momentum amid spiraling regional tensions protesters last Monday told the government it had one week to meet their demands or they would escalate their demonstrations.
Protesters sought to ramp up pressure on the government on Monday with pop-up rallies away from their main gathering place in Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
Hundreds descended on nearby Tayaran Square, where they clashed with security forces who fired tear gas and live rounds to disperse them, an AFP journalist said.
Three protesters were killed, medics said, two of them by live rounds and the third by a tear gas canister that pierced his neck.
More than 50 other people were wounded, the medics said.
Young men wearing helmets and gas masks in an attempt to protect themselves from flying gas canisters erected barricades to try to push riot police back.
Protesters have called for early elections under a new voting law, an independent prime minister to replace outgoing premier Adel Abdel Mahdi and for all corrupt officials to be held accountable.
Late Sunday young protesters began sealing off highways and bridges across the capital Baghdad and Iraq’s south, torching tires and setting up makeshift barricades.
They tried to do the same early Monday in the capital but security forces acted fast, with the military saying it had reopened a major Baghdad thoroughfare and arrested nine young men who had attempted to seal it off.
Fearing widespread rallies, provincial authorities across southern Iraq announced an official holiday on Monday.
But young people hit the streets in the southern cities of Kut, Nasiriyah, Baqubah, Amara and the holy city of Najaf, setting tires on fire.
In the protest hotspot of Diwaniyah, they shut key roads both inside and leading out of the city.
“The procrastination of the government and the political class for more than three months now has prompted us to take escalatory steps to pressure them to meet our demands,” said Mohammad Faeq, a 28-year-old protester.
Since October, around 460 people have lost their lives to protest-related violence and another 25,000 have been wounded, according to an AFP count.
Authorities do not provide updated casualty figures.