BAGHDAD – At least seven more Iraqi protesters were killed Saturday in clashes with security forces in Baghdad and the southern town of Nasiriyah, as thousands took part in nationwide anti-government protests, officials said.
The new violence brought the number of demonstrators killed to 49 in two days of protesting, according to an Associated Press tally. The semi-official Iraq High Commission for Human Rights, which accounts for violence in additional cities in southern Iraq, put the death toll at 63.
Thousands of protesters tried to reach Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to embassies and government offices. Security forces fired tear gas as protesters tried to remove blast walls from a main bridge leading to the government district. By nightfall, the security forces had chased the protesters back to Tahrir Square, a central roundabout.
"I want change. I want to remove those corrupt people who sleep in the Green Zone and who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at us," said protester Fares Mukhaled, 19, who sat barefoot on the ground at the square, where some had erected tents.
Four people were killed when they were struck by tear gas canisters in Baghdad, security and medical officials said.
A second medical official said three protesters were shot dead by security guards when they attacked the office of a provincial official in the southern town of Nasiriyah. The town in the mainly Shiite south has seen especially violent protests in recent weeks and was placed under a 24-hour curfew on Friday along with the southern city of Basra.
At least 149 were killed in a wave of demonstrations earlier this month. The spontaneous, leaderless protests are directed at the political establishment that came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which many blame for spiraling corruption and poor public services.
The protests against the Shiite-dominated government have been largely concentrated in Shiite areas. Some have also criticized Iran's influence over the country. "Iraq is free. Iran out, out!" some protesters chanted in Tahrir Square.