The week-long clashes have continued after security forces fired to disperse protesters, who were trying to storm the provincial government building using rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration calling for the resignation of governor Nazem al Waeli, and against deteriorating public services, in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah in the province of Dhi Qar, February 26, 2021.
Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration calling for the resignation of governor Nazem al Waeli, and against deteriorating public services, in Iraq's southern city of Nasiriyah in the province of Dhi Qar, February 26, 2021. (AFP)

At least five protesters have been killed and more than 175 people injured in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, according to a Reuters witness and other sources.

Among the fatalities on Friday, most died from bullet wounds, a hospital source said, adding that about 120 protesters were wounded. 

At least 57 members of the security forces were injured, according to a another hospital source and a security source.

The clashes continued on Friday evening after a week of violence that erupted on Sunday when security forces fired to disperse protesters, who were trying to storm the provincial government building using rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Protesters are demanding the removal of the governor and justice for protesters who killed since 2019.

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'This must end now'

Late on Friday Amnesty International said it "verified videos from Nassiriya that contain clear audio of gunfire and show police firing weapons as well as dead protesters in the streets."

"This must end now," Amnesty wrote on Twitter.

"The Iraqi government has failed time and time again to address the impunity with which protesters are being killed. When will the bloodshed end?" it said.

Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights, said on Twitter that five have been killed and 271 injured including 147 members of the security forces in the last five days.

"The situation is out of control in Nassiriya and the blood is shedding while the government is watching," Bayati posted on Twitter.

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Biggest anti-government protests 

Iraq’s biggest anti-government protests in decades broke out in October 2019 and continued for months, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demanding jobs, services and removal of the ruling elite, whom they accused of corruption.

Nearly 500 people were killed, and the protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi, who took office in May 2020, has pledged justice for activists killed or abused by armed groups. But no prosecutions have occurred so far.

The clashes come just a week before Pope Francis visits Iraq from March 5 to 8. He is due to tour the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur, only a few kilometres away from the clashes.

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Renewed violence

Premier Kadhemi, who is also commander-in-chief of Iraq's armed forces, has repeatedly ordered security forces not to fire on crowds.

He has even ordered the removal of top security officials there but to no avail.

Kadhemi has also pledged to bring the perpetrators of all protest-related violence to justice.

Earlier this month, he announced the arrest of four members of a suspected "cell" that carried out assassinations of activists and journalists seen as sympathetic to the anti-government movement.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies