The Latest: UN calls for dialogue amid Iraq protest

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Anti-government protesters gather for a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Iraqi security forces fired live bullets and used tear gas against a few hundred protesters gathered in central Baghdad on Thursday, hours after a curfew was announced in the Iraqi capital on the heels of two days of deadly violence that gripped the country amid anti-government protests. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on developments on violence gripping Iraq for the third straight day amid anti-government protests (all times local):

10:05 p.m.

The United Nations is calling for dialogue between the Iraqi government and protesters, saying “we very much regret the loss of life that we have seen over the last few days during the protests.”

Iraqi security forces used live ammunition and tear gas during a third day of unrest that has left 31 people dead, most of them protesters.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday at U.N. headquarters in New York that the U.N. welcomes the Iraqi prime minister’s announcement that he’s opened an investigation into the deaths.

“We call for respect of the right of people to assemble freely and peacefully and as a matter of principle we also believe that further violence and excessive use of force must be avoided,” he said.

Dujarric said the U.N. envoy for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, met with a number of protesters Wednesday night in Baghdad and called for calm and dialogue.

“She said that the protesters’ demands for economic reforms, jobs, reliable public services, accountability, prodent and impartial governance are legitimate and longstanding,” Dujarric said.

Hennis-Plasschaert has also met Iraqi authorities and urged them “to exercise maximum restraint in the handling of the protests and to give peaceful protesters space to freely speak their minds, in keeping with the law,” Dujarric said.

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9:40 p.m.

Iraqi officials say anti-government protesters in the Iraqi capital have blocked a section of Baghdad’s international airport road and torched two local government buildings farther north.

A police official said dozens of protesters burned tires and sat on the ground, blocking on Thursday the road to the airport from downtown Baghdad near al-Amel district, despite an open-ended curfew in the wake of three days of protests. The official said the lane out of the airport into town remained open. 

A police official and a health worker said other protesters in Baghdad’s northern suburbs of Taji and Sabaa al-Bour have stormed municipal offices and torched them.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Protests have gripped Baghdad and other cities since Tuesday led by demonstrators complaining of a corruption-riddled economy and demanding the government step down.

Security forces have responded with live ammunition and tear gas since Tuesday, killing at least 30 protesters.

But there was no immediate security response to the three incidents after dark Thursday.

_ By Sarah El Deeb

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8 p.m.

An Iraqi medical official says at least six protesters have been shot and killed in the southern city of Nasiriyah, south of the capital Baghdad, during anti-government rallies.

The official told The Associated Press the bodies of the protesters were brought to the local hospital after sunset Thursday. The protesters had defied a curfew imposed in the city, about 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, southeast of the capital, Baghdad. Protests have spread in Baghdad and towns and cities to the south since Tuesday. The new violence brings the death toll to 31, including 10 killed Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief the media.

The protesters have rallied behind calls to unseat the government, accusing it of corruption and failure to address deepening economic malaise. The security forces have responded with live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons while authorities cut the internet which protesters had used to organize.

_ By Sarah El Deeb.

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4 p.m.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has urged Iranian pilgrims to postpone their visits to Shiite holy sites in Iraq amid the turmoil in the neighboring Arab nation.

Thursday’s ministry statement appealed on the pilgrims to wait until “peace” returns to Iraqi cities and expressed hope the Iraqi government and nation, as well as political parties and groups, would help calm the disturbances “misused by foreigners.”

Every year some 2 million Iranian pilgrims visit Shiite holy cities on the day of Arbaeen, which this year falls on Oct. 19, for the annual commemoration marking the end of the mourning period for the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and a central figure in Shiite Islam.

Imam Hussein was killed in a climactic battle in Karbala in A.D. 680, which cemented the rift between Sunnis and Shiites.

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2:45 p.m.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad to denounce his threat that Tehran would retaliate to an American attack anywhere in the world, including in Iraq.

The development comes as deadly protests have gripped Baghdad and spread since Tuesday to southern Iraqi provinces. So far, 19 people have been reported killed, including one policeman.

Thursday’s ministry statement said Iraqi official Abdul-Karim Hashem told Iran’s envoy, Iraj Masjedi, that American troops are in Iraq and the request of the Iraqi government.

It said Hashem told Masjedi that Iraq would not accept becoming an arena for international conflicts.

Masjedi recently told Iraq’s Dijla TV that if the Americans attack Iran, Tehran “will strike back anywhere, including (in) Iraq.”

Iraq has been caught in the middle of U.S.-Iran tensions in the Middle East, putting an additional strain on the fragile government in Baghdad that hosts thousands of U.S. troops and Iran-backed militias.

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2:35 p.m.

Iraq’s state news agency says Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi has invited representatives of the protesters to come to the parliament to discuss their demands.

The agency gave no further details but the move appears to be an attempt to calm down the protests that have gripped Baghdad and spread since Tuesday to southern Iraqi provinces.

Al-Halbousi’s comments on Thursday came as Iraqi security forces fired live bullets and tear gas against protesters in Baghdad despite a curfew that was announced in the Iraqi capital hours earlier.

The death toll from two days of protests has risen to 19, with most of the fatalities in southern Iraq.

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12:40 p.m.

Iraqi medical officials say 10 people were killed in southern Iraq overnight, raising the death toll since anti-government protests erupted across the country earlier this week to 19.

The officials say five people were killed in the southern city of Amara and five others in the city of Nasiriyah late on Wednesday night.

They say the five dead in Nasiryah were four civilians and a policeman.

The officials also said on Thursday that 45 people were wounded in Amara, some of whom suffered wounds from rubber bullets.

The anti-government protests began on Tuesday and spread to most areas in southern Iraq a day later.

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12:20 p.m.

An Iraqi official says Baghdad has closed a border crossing with Iran because of deadly unrest in Iraq amid anti-government protests in the Iraqi capital and several southern provinces.

The official says the Khesro border crossing with Iran in the eastern province of Diyala will remain closed until further notice.

Iran’s state television said the border was closed due to the “situation” in Iraq.

The Iraqi official said that also the al-Shib border crossing between the two countries was briefly closed overnight. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

There are nine border crossings between the two countries.

_Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad;

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12:05 p.m.

Iraqi security officials say unknown assailants have shot and killed an Iraqi activist and his wife in the southern city of Basra.

The officials say Hussein Adel Madani, a cartoonist, was shot dead along with his wife, Sara Madani, by masked gunmen who stormed their house in the city early on Thursday amid ongoing unrest and protests gripping the country.

The well-known activists had been taking part in protests in the city Wednesday night. They were shot dead a few hours later. The couple has a two-year-old daughter, Zahra, who was unharmed.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which is the latest in a string of assassinations targeting activists in Basra in the past year.

_Nabil Al-Jurani in Basra, Iraq;

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9:30 a.m.

Iraqi security forces have fired live bullets and used tear gas against a few hundred protesters in central Baghdad, hours after a curfew was announced in the Iraqi capital on the heels of two days of deadly violence that gripped the country amid anti-government protests.

Before dawn on Thursday, explosions were heard inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government offices and foreign embassies. The U.S.-led coalition said an investigation is underway, adding that no coalition forces or assets were hit.

So far, at least nine people have been reported killed and hundreds have been wounded since the violence and clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators first erupted on Tuesday.

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