Iraqi anti-government protesters carry a banner during ongoing demonstrations in Baghdad on Sunday. Sabah Arar/AFP
Thousands of protesters blocked roads and public buildings in southern Iraq Sunday, as the latest deadline for choosing a new prime minister loomed.
Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt and inefficient.
"The revolution continues!" shouted one demonstrator at a protest encampment in central Diwaniyah.
Protesters blocked off public buildings one by one in the southern Iraqi city, and put up banners reading "The country is under construction -- please excuse the disruption".
Overnight, protesters in Diwaniyah and Basra, another southern city, had declared a "general strike".
Sunday marks the latest deadline -- already pushed back twice by President Barham Saleh -- for parliament to choose a new premier to replace Adel Abdel Mahdi, who tendered his administration's resignation last month.
Officials say neighbour Iran, a key player in Iraqi politics, wants to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as education minister in the government of Abdel Mahdi.
But protesters categorically reject his candidacy, along with anyone from the wider political establishment that has been in place since dictator Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003.
The protest movement has lost momentum in recent weeks as it has been hit by intimidation, including assassinations perpetrated by militias, according to the UN.
Around 460 people have been killed since the protests began nearly three months ago, and some 25,000 have been wounded.
But the movement appeared to regain some confidence on Sunday.
Dozens of protesters blocked roads linking southern cities to Baghdad with burning tyres, an AFP correspondent said.
In Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities, striking students closed schools and gathered in their thousands, AFP correspondents said.
In Nasiriyah, protesters blocked bridges and several roads while all public buildings remained closed.
Protesters are demanding the fall of Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed Al Halbussi, accusing them of procrastinating.
More than 30 people were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties
More than 250 Iraqis have been killed in demonstrations against government since the start of October.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks in the capital, Baghdad, and across the Shiite south, demanding sweeping political change. The protesters complain of widespread corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, with regular power cuts despite the country's vast oil reserves.
The protests represent a second phase of a week-long movement in early October that ended with more than 150 people dead. Rallies had been set to resume on Friday, with a range of actors from Iraq's highest Shiite authority to the United Nations urging restraint.
Israeli authorities increased operations in the occupied West Bank. More than 50 Palestinians have been killed, including fighters and civilians, in operations and incidents in the West Bank since then.
The Centre also confirmed that it is following the situation around the clock and would continue brief the public on the latest developments, calling on the public, road users and motorists to exercise precautions when driving during rain, and to avoid nearing surface runoffs and pools of rainwater.
The Centre also confirmed that it is following the situation around the clock and would continue brief the public on the latest developments, calling on the public, road users and motorists to exercise precautions when driving during rain, and to avoid nearing surface runoffs and pools of rainwater. It also appealed to members of the society to follow the bulletins and reports issued by the NCM and not to circulate rumors.