Iraqi PM addresses the nation, urges protesters to go home; death toll at 33
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Iraqi PM addresses the nation, urges protesters to go home; death toll at 33

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators have clashed with riot police in mass rallies across the country

Protesters clash with Iraqi riot police vehicles during a demonstration against state corruption and poor services, between the capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square and the high-security Green Zone district, on October 1, 2019. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
Protesters clash with Iraqi riot police vehicles during a demonstration against state corruption and poor services, between the capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square and the high-security Green Zone district, on October 1, 2019. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s premier on Friday sent a message to anti-government protesters, saying their “legitimate demands” have been heard and urging them to go home while also comparing security measures imposed in the wake of this week’s violence, including a curfew, to “bitter medicine” that needs to be swallowed.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi spoke in a televised address to the nation following three days of demonstrations that have spread across many provinces in the country. Since Tuesday, security forces have fired live rounds and tear gas every day to disperse the protesters, leaving 33 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Authorities have also cut internet access in much of Iraq since late Wednesday, in a desperate move to curb the rallies.

The rallies have erupted spontaneously, mostly spurred by youths wanting jobs, improved services such as electricity and water, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country.

“We will not make empty promises … or promise what we cannot achieve,” Abdul-Mahdi said in his televised speech, broadcast at 2:30 a.m.

Youths carry away a protester injured during clashes with riot police amidst demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment, in the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square on October 3, 2019. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

He said there is “no magic solution” to Iraq’s problems but pledged to work on laws granting poor families a basic income, provide alternative housing to violators and fight corruption.

“The security measures we are taking, including temporary curfew, are difficult choices. But like bitter medicine, they are inevitable,” he said. “We have to return life to normal in all provinces and respect the law.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to the media at a news conference during a visit to Ankara, Turkey, May 15, 2019. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

It was not immediately clear what the protesters’ response to Abdul-Mahdi’s statements will be.

The unrest is the most serious challenge for his year-old government, which also has been caught in the middle of increasing US-Iran tensions in the region. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of US troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.

The mostly leaderless protests have been concentrated in Baghdad and in predominantly Shiite areas of southern Iraq, bringing out jobless youths and university graduates who are suffering under an economy reeling from graft and mismanagement.

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