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Iraq unrest: Death toll nears 50

The death toll from days of violent protests across Iraq has risen to forty-six, with most casualties taking place in the last twenty-four hours.

 As the unrest quickly heightened all over major towns and cities, the country’s most powerful cleric spoke out on Friday, placing the blame squarely on the ruling elite.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said “the government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground.”

In a statement read out by his representative during a Friday sermon, Sistani called on protesters and the security forces to avoid violence. But he also ordered the political groups to respond to the demands of the protesters.

In an attempt to assuage the protesters, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi promised reforms. He said he understood the widespread frustration, but there was no “magic solution” to Iraq’s problems.

The violent demonstrations have escalated by the day since they first erupted on Tuesday, making a spontaneous sweep across the country.

Security forces have fired live ammunition at crowds of mainly young men, and gunmen have fired back. Hundreds of people have been wounded, including members of the security forces as well as demonstrators, a Reuters  report said on Friday.

Reuters quotes police and medical sources as saying the death toll included eighteen people killed in the southern city of Nassiriya, sixteen in the capital Baghdad, four in the southern city of Amara and four in Baquba. Other deaths were reported in the southern cities of Hilla and Najaf.

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