At least three protesters and one policeman have been killed in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah, according to a monitoring group, after nationwide anti-government protests devolved into violence that saw security forces fire live rounds and tear gas for a second straight day.
The unrest on Wednesday came a day after at least two protesters – one in Baghdad and one in Nasiriyah – were killed and hundreds of people were wounded in clashes between police and protesters demanding jobs and better public services.
The nationwide rallies are the largest display of public anger against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government.
Mustafa Saadoon, director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera three protesters and one policeman were killed in Nasiriyah during clashes on Wednesday. At least 78 people were also wounded, he said.
News agencies quoted medical and security sources as saying that the death toll over the past two days stood at nine. The figure could not be independently verified.
Authorities deployed counter-terrorism troops in Nasiriyah after police “lost control” when gun battles erupted between protesters and security forces, police sources told Reuters news agency. Curfews were later imposed in Nasiriyah and two other southern cities, Amara and Hilla, they added.
Meanwhile, internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said online coverage had been cut off across much of the country, including Baghdad, with connectivity falling below 70 per cent.
In the capital, Tahrir Square was sealed off on Wednesday by heavily armed soldiers and dozens of riot policemen, with some demonstrators gathering around the edges. Hundreds of protesters including university graduates had rallied there on Tuesday,
Protesters on Wednesday also took to the streets in al-Shaab in north Baghdad and Zafaraniya in the south, with riot police attempting to disperse them with tear gas and live rounds fired in the air.
“I came out today in support of my brothers in Tahrir Square,” Abdallah Walid told AFP news agency in Zafaraniya, where protesters were burning tyres on streets lined with riot police vehicles.
“We want jobs and better public services. We’ve been demanding them for years and the government has never responded,” the 27-year-old said.
AFP, citing medical sources, said some 60 people were wounded across the capital on Wednesday, including nine from bullet wounds.
“All throughout the evening, we’ve been hearing the sound of gunfire and sirens,” said Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad. The demonstrations have spread to several cities across the country, with demonstrators in Najaf reportedly setting fire to government buildings, he said.
The Iraqi government has been taken by surprise over the size of the rallies, which were mostly organised on social media, he said, adding: “The government appears to be very concerned about these protests spreading. They are restricting live broadcasts from the protest scene, as well as social media, like Facebook and Twitter.”
Meanwhile, protesters tried to break into the municipality building in the eastern city of Kut, while hundreds took to the streets of Hilla and Diwaniya, in central Iraq, according to Reuters news agency.
Thousands gathered in the oil-rich southern city of Basra in front of the provincial administration building but so far protests there were peaceful.
Peaceful protests were also reported in Samawa, while small rallies were held in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Tikrit, as well as in the eastern province of Diyala, Reuters reported.