More than 60 dead as Iraq protests take new violent turn - GulfToday

VIDEO: More than 60 dead as Iraq protests take new violent turn

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A demonstrator wears a mask to protect himself from tear gas during a protest in Baghdad on Saturday. Khalid Al Mousily / Reuters

More than 60 people have died in renewed anti-government protests across Iraq, officials said on Saturday, with clashes breaking out as demonstrators turned their fury against government and paramilitary offices.

The death toll from protests this month has soared to 220, including dozens killed since Friday as they torched government buildings or offices belonging to factions of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

Protesters tried to reach Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to embassies and government offices.

Security forces fired tear gas as protesters tried to remove blast walls from a main bridge leading to the government district.

Three people were killed when they were struck by tear gas canisters, security and medical officials said.

A second medical official said three protesters were shot dead by security guards when they attacked the office of a provincial official in the southern town of Nasiriyah.

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The Interior Ministry and the military issued statements on Saturday saying some protesters have exploited the rallies to attack government buildings and political party offices.

Meanwhile,  the heads of powerful Iraqi paramilitary factions threatened they would take "revenge" on Saturday after their offices in the south of the country were torched during deadly protests.

Demonstrators set fire to dozens of government buildings and offices belonging to the influential Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force across southern cities late Friday.

In Missan province, the headquarters of the Asaib Ahl Al Haq, one of the Hashed factions, was torched and a leading commander of the group reportedly killed.

Wissam al-Alyawi was later pronounced dead by the group, after footage circulated online showing him writhing in an ambulance as a crowd of men tried to break into it.

Iraqi-750 Iraqi protesters take cover from security forces behind a tuk-tuk in Baghdad. AFP

Asaib chief Qais al-Khazaali was in Baghdad on Saturday for the funeral procession of Alyawi and his brother Issam, apparently killed in the same incident.

The town of Nasiriyah in the mainly Shiite south has seen especially violent protests in recent weeks and was placed under a 24-hour curfew on Friday.

At least 48 people have been killed since the protests resumed this week, after 149 were killed in a wave of demonstrations earlier this month. The spontaneous, leaderless protests are directed at the political establishment that came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which many blame for spiraling corruption and poor public services.

Iraqi protesters carry an injured man during clashes with security forces in Baghdad. AFP

The protests against the Shiite-dominated government have been largely concentrated in Shiite-majority areas.

The ministry said some of its members were killed as police battled violent protesters but did not give a number. The military warned that it would take necessary and legal measures to deal with those it called saboteurs.

Iraqi officials said 12 of those killed on Friday died in a fire they had set when they stormed the office of a government-backed militia in the southern town of Diwaniyah. A security official said protesters torched the offices of at least three militias in southern Maysan province.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.