UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The death toll from protests in Iraq has risen to at least 27, police and medics said on Thursday, Reuters reported.
Police and gunmen exchanged fire in a southern Iraqi city, killing one person after 11 people were killed on Wednesday night, as anti-government protests escalated to represent one of the worst security challenges in years, the agency said.
Protesters with rifles opened fire in the town of Rifai on Thursday morning, near the southern city of Nasiriyah, where seven people were killed on Wednesday night, police said, adding that 50 people were wounded in Rifai, including five policemen.
The curfew, which was lifted from southern cities on Wednesday morning, was immediately reinstated in Nasiriyah and then in Amara.
In Baghdad, authorities sought to pre-empt protests by imposing a curfew from 5 am, and troops patrolled the main streets and public squares, but by morning, sporadic demonstrations had begun and troops fired live ammunition to disperse them.
Residents of the Iraqi capital have lined up outside shops and food stores to stock supplies in case of a sudden rise in prices or authorities impose more security restrictions.
Demonstrations began in Baghdad on Tuesday and quickly swelled to other cities, mostly in the south, where police used live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.
Protesters have angered the government and the political elite they accuse of corruption and doing nothing to improve their living conditions, demanding jobs, better services and the overthrow of the regime.
The protests began a few days before Hussein’s 40th anniversary, which is expected to mark about 20 million Shi’ite pilgrims in southern Iraq. The unrest in Iraq has forced Iran to close key border crossings used by visitors.
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