Deadly violence breaks out in Haboubi Square, in the south of the city of Nasiriya, following the arrest of activists in the province of Dhi Qar.
A policeman has been killed and dozens injured in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in southern Iraq.
Violence erupted on Sunday in Haboubi Square in the city of Nasiriya after the recent arrest of activists in Dhi Qar province.
Witnesses said security forces opened fire to disperse protesters – including some throwing stones – from the town square that served as the epicenter of a widespread protest movement that began in October 2019 .
Dozens of protesters set car tires on fire and blocked a main city road, witnesses said.
The policeman was “shot in the head,” an unnamed medic in the city – 300 km (190 miles) south of the capital, Baghdad, told AFP news agency. However, other reports have challenged this account.
Officials said at least 18 protesters were injured and more than 40 among the security forces.
Anti-government protests in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq continued sporadically even as protests in Baghdad came to a halt with the spread of the coronavirus and after a deadly government crackdown on protesters.
A tent stall in Haboubi Square remained in place until November 2020, when eight people were killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Anti-government protesters reoccupied the square on Friday, demanding the release of peers arrested in recent weeks.
More than 500 protesters have been killed in the crackdown on mass protests that began in October 2019, when thousands of people rallied against corruption, unemployment, poor public services and other grievances.
The protests prompted then Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign at the end of November 2019.
Kidnappings, targeted killings and arrests of protest leaders continued. In addition to demanding an end to political corruption, protesters want better jobs and public services. But the state’s ability to finance these demands is crippled by an economic crisis, including a yawning budget deficit.
The current government, led by Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is grappling with a deep economic crisis made worse by falling oil prices, Iraq’s main source of income, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.