At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in a flashpoint Iraqi city, witnesses said on Thursday.
The toll is seen as one of the highest since anti-government rallies started in Iraq in early October.
The violence in Nasiriyah, the capital city of the southern Dhi Qar province, erupted in the early hours of Thursday after security forces tried to reopen three bridges controlled by protesters in the centre of the city, the witnesses added.
Some 118 others were also injured in the clashes.
The semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said 13 protesters were killed and 75 others injured in the unrest.
Witnesses told dpa that security forces had used tear gas and live bullets to reopen the bridges, but they failed to wrest control of the facilities.
‘The clashes took place about 2 kilometres away from al-Haboubi Square [in Nasiriyah] which is currently packed with demonstrators and encircled by security forces,’ one witness said.
Security authorities in Nasiriyah, around 375 kilometres south of Baghdad, announced on Thursday a curfew in the city due to the unrest.
Cautious calm has since prevailed in the city.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on Thursday removed the chief of Dhi Qar's security crisis cell, General Jamil al-Shammari, Iraq's official news agency INA reported without details.
The move was in response to the fatal violence in the province, other Iraqi media said.
Major General Ali al-Hashemi has meanwhile been put in charge of security in the southern city of Najaf where anti-government protesters torched the Iranian consulate building the day before, according to INA.
Work was suspended on Thursday in state institutions, except security and health-care agencies in Najaf, a Shia holy city.
Street protests have roiled Iraq since early Octobers with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the government, the dissolution of parliament and an overhaul of the country's political system, which has been in place since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Repeated reform promises by the country's politicians have failed to assuage the angry, mostly young, protesters.
Several rights groups have accused the Iraqi security forces of using excessive violence to quell the protests.
Authorities have repeatedly accused what they call ‘outlaws’ of taking advantage of peaceful protests to attack demonstrators and security forces, and vandalize public and private properties.
The demonstrations are Iraq's largest since December 2017 when Baghdad declared the liberation of all territory that was previously under the control of Islamic State extremists.
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