Iraqi PM appeals for calm as Baghdad clashes mount

BAGHDAD: Clashes intensified on Friday in Baghdad between protesters and police as Iraq’s religious leader urged authorities to heed the demands of demonstrators who have rallied in the capital and other cities for four straight days.
The endorsement from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is revered among Iraq’s majority, prompted celebratory gunfire from protesters and piled new pressure on Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi as he battles to quell the intensifying unrest that has left dozens dead.
Many had been waiting for a signal from Sistani in his Friday prayer sermon, read out by representatives in holy places across Iraq, before deciding whether to join protesters in defying the daytime curfew in force in Baghdad and other cities. The premier has appealed for patience from the young unemployed who have formed the mainstay of the protests, saying his not yet year-old government needs more time to implement reforms.
Sistani retorted that the government needed to take “clear and practical steps” and act now “before it’s too late” to address popular grievances.
The government “must do what it can to improve public services, find work for the unemployed, end clientelism, deal with the corruption issue and send those implicated in it to prison”, Sistani said, listing some of the grievances. — AFP