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Iraq protests death toll rises to 73; over 3,000 injured

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Baghdad, Iraq Oct 05, 2019, 01.32 PM (IST)

The death toll from mass protests in Baghdad and cities across southern Iraq rose to 73 on Saturday as the unrest entered its fifth day, parliament's human rights commission said.

More than 3,000 people have also been injured since the protests against chronic unemployment, poor public services and widespread corruption erupted in the capital on Tuesday, the commission said.

A total of 540 demonstrators have been arrested, of whom nearly 200 remain in custody, the panel added.

The violence is the worst since Iraq put down an insurgency by Islamic State two years ago. The protests arose in the south, heartland of the Shi'ite majority, but quickly spread, with no formal leadership.

The violence is an unprecedented test for Adel Abdul Mahdi, a mild-mannered veteran politician who came to power last year as a compromise candidate backed by powerful Shi'ite groups that have dominated Iraq since the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Watch: Iraq anti-government protest - military deployed to quell protests

In his overnight address, Abdul Mahdi pledged reforms but said there was no "magic solution" to Iraq's problems. He insisted politicians were aware of the suffering of the masses: "We do not live in ivory towers - we walk among you in the streets of Baghdad," he said.

A young man in a crowd fleeing sniper shots at a central Baghdad square was scornful. "The promises by Adel Abdul Mahdi are to fool the people, and today they are firing live gunshots at us," he said.

"Today this was a peaceful protest. They set up these barricades, and the sniper is sitting right there since last night."

Police and medical sources told Reuters the death toll so far included 18 people killed in the southern city of Nassiriya, 16 in Baghdad, four in the southern city of Amara and four in Baquba as unrest spread north of the capital. Deaths were also reported in the southern cities of Hilla and Najaf.

Curfews were imposed in a number of cities. Authorities shut roads into the capital from the north and northeast and were sending reinforcements to Baghdad's densely populated east. Military convoys were being sent to Nassiriya.

Abdul Mahdi said late on Friday that a curfew in Baghdad would be lifted from 5 a.m. local time on Saturday.