At least 40 protesters have been killed in a 24-hour period in Iraq after thousands defied a curfew to join funeral marches and torched an Iranian consulate. Protesters closed roads and police and military forces were deployed across key oil-rich provinces. Demonstrators across Iraq have blamed powerful eastern neighbour Iran for propping up the Baghdad government which they are seeking to topple.
Tehran has demanded Iraq take decisive action against the protesters, with foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi condemning the attack.
“Iran has officially communicated its disgust to the Iraq ambassador in Tehran,” he told Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
Later Thursday, three protesters were shot dead close to the burnt consulate, medics said.
Iran’s consulate in Iraq’s other holy city of Karbala was targeted earlier this month, with security forces shooting four demonstrators dead.
In Baghdad, protesters attempted to cross the Ahrar Bridge leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government, nearby. Protesters were occupying parts of three bridges - Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar - all leading to the fortified area. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Protesters have accused the ruling elite of embezzling state funds that are desperately needed to restore failing public services and fix schools.
Last month, four Iraqi parliamentarians have resigned in anger at the government's perceived failure to respond to mass protests, piling more pressure on embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Earlier, the United Nations and Amnesty International urged Iraqi authorities to respect the right of peaceful assembly. "We are worried by reports that security forces have used live ammunition and rubber bullets in some areas, and have also fired tear gas canisters directly at protesters," Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva.
Amnesty International's Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf condemned the use of "lethal and unnecessary force". An internet blackout was a "draconian measure... to silence protests away from cameras and the world's eyes", she added.
(With inputs from agencies)