Thousands protest in southern Iraq, demand independent PM

Thousands protest in southern Iraq, demand independent PM

Thousands of protesters have blocked roads and public buildings in southern Iraq, demanding the appointment of an independent prime minister as the latest deadline for choosing a new leader looms.

Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shia-majority south since October 1, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt and inefficient.

"The revolution continues," shouted one demonstrator at a protest encampment in central Diwaniyah on Sunday.

Protesters blocked off public buildings one by one in the southern Iraqi city, and put up banners reading: "The country is under construction - please excuse the disruption."

Overnight, protesters in Diwaniyah and Basra, another southern city, had declared a "general strike".

In Karbala and Najaf, two Shia holy cities, striking students closed schools and gathered in their thousands, AFP news agency reported.

In Nasiriya, protesters blocked bridges and several roads while all public buildings remained closed.

Sunday marks the latest deadline - already pushed back twice by President Barham Salih - for Parliament to choose a new prime minister to replace Adel Abdul Mahdi, who tendered his administration's resignation last month.

Officials say neighbour Iran, a key player in Iraqi politics, wants to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as education minister in the previous government.

But protesters categorically reject his candidacy, along with anyone from the wider political establishment which has been in place since Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003.

Protesters are demanding the fall of President Saleh and Parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi, accusing them of procrastinating.

The protest movement has lost momentum in recent weeks as it has been hit by intimidation, including assassinations perpetrated by militias, according to the United Nations.

About 460 people have been killed and 25,000 injured since the protests began nearly three months ago.

Iraq | Iraq, Middle East, Politics | 2019-12-22 |