The United Nations urged Saturday an end to violence in Iraq, after five days of anti-government rallies marred by the killing of nearly 100 people, mainly protesters.
The demonstrations which have evolved from initial demands for employment and better services to the fall of the government carried on into the night in various neighbourhoods of Baghdad and southern Iraq, as authorities struggled to agree a response.
Security forces broke up a mass rally in the east of Baghdad, where protesters faced volleys of tear gas and live rounds fired in their direction, witnesses said.
“Five days of reported deaths and injuries: this must stop,” said the United Nations’ top official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.
She described the violence as a “senseless loss of life” and said those behind it must be held accountable.
The authorities accused unidentified snipers of shooting into the crowd and said they were searching residential neighbourhoods for those responsible.
At least 99 people have died and nearly 4,000 wounded since protests began in the capital on Tuesday before spreading to the south of the country, according to the Iraqi parliament’s human rights commission.
The mainly young, male protesters have insisted their movement is not linked to any party or religious establishment and have scoffed at recent overtures by politicians.
On Saturday, demonstrators in the southern city of Nasiriyah set fire to the headquarters of six different political parties.
Thousands also descended on the governorate in the southern city of Diwaniyah, where gunfire was unleashed into the air, AFP correspondents there said.
Parliament’s human rights commission said Saturday that most of those who have died in the last five days fell in Baghdad, while 250 other people were treated in the capital for sniper wounds.
“We demand clarification from the Iraqi government on those wounded in Baghdad by sniper fire, which is ongoing today,” the commission said.