A curfew was yesterday lifted in Baghdad following days of protests that have left nearly 100 dead, but tensions remained after firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanded the government quit.
The largely spontaneous protests over chronic unemployment and poor public services that erupted in the capital on Tuesday have escalated into a broader movement demanding an end to official corruption and a change of government.
At least 93 people have been killed and nearly 4,000 wounded, as protests spread to cities across the south, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said.
Al-Sadr threw his weight behind the demonstrations on Friday with a call for the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
His movement has the power and organization to bring large numbers of supporters onto the streets, but at the risk of alienating many of those who have taken to the streets in the past few days to express their rejection of all of Iraq’s feuding political factions.
Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Mohammad al-Halbusi was due to convene a session of parliament later yesterday to discuss job creation and social welfare schemes, after he too extended a hand to the protesters, saying: “Your voice is being heard.”
In Baghdad yesterday, municipal workers were out and about cleaning up the rubbish burned by protesters.
Shoppers trickled back onto the streets to buy vegetables and other perishable goods the price of which has more than doubled since the deadly protests started.
With the daytime curfew in place since Thursday lifted, demonstrators began gathering near the emblematic Tahrir Square in the morning, although many main thoroughfares remained shut and an Internet blackout was still in force.
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.
“These men don’t represent us. We don’t want parties anymore. We don’t want anyone to speak in our name,” said one protester late on Friday.
Abu Salah, a 70-year-old resident of Baghdad said that the streets would be full until Iraqis saw real change.
“If living conditions don’t improve, the protests will come back even worse,” he said.
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