At least five people have been killed and scores of others wounded in parts of southern Iraq, police and medical sources said, as weeks-long protests against the country’s political system and ruling elite intensify.
In Nasiriyah, security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters to disperse protesters who had gathered overnight on three bridges in the southern city, killing three people, the sources told Reuters news agency on Sunday.
More than 50 others were reportedly wounded during clashes.
Protests continued in the city on Sunday, with some government offices reportedly set on fire.
Separately, two more people were killed and more than 70 wounded on Sunday after security forces used live fire to disperse protesters near the main Gulf port of Umm Qasr, south of the city of Basra, Reuters cited police and medical sources as saying.
Hospital sources said the cause of death was live fire, adding that some of the wounded were in critical condition.
The tolls could not be independently verified.
The protesters had gathered to demand the opening of the road around the port town blocked by security forces in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from reaching the entrance of the facility, Iraq’s largest commodities port.
On Friday, the security forces had dispersed by force protesters who had been blocking the entrance to the vital port and reopened it.
Also on Sunday, hundreds of protesters burned tyres and blocked some roads in Basra, preventing government employees from reaching offices, according to police.
Security forces also wounded at least 24 people in the Shia holy city of Kerbala overnight after opening fire on demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the local government headquarters, medical and security sources said.
At least 330 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations in decades.
Rights groups have previously described the situation in Iraq as a “bloodbath” and called on the government to rein in security forces.
Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from the capital, Baghdad, said the reported developments on Sunday showed that the situation in Iraq remains “very tense”.
“The protest movement really doesn’t look as if it’s slowing down any time soon,” Jamjoom said.
“The people we encounter [in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest] … say they do not believe that the government here has actually shown that they are listening to their demands,” he added.
“Because of that, they are committed to come out day after day, no matter what danger they may face.”