The death toll from days of violent demonstrations across Iraq surged to 46 on Friday, most of them killed in the last 24 hours as unrest rapidly accelerated and the country's most powerful cleric placed the blame squarely on politicians, reports Reuters.
In a rare intervention, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose word is law for most of Iraq's majority Shi'ites, called on protesters and the security forces to avoid violence. But he also ordered political factions to respond to protest demands.
"It is sorrowful that there have been so many deaths, casualties and destruction," Sistani said in a letter read out by his representative during a sermon.
"The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground," he said. "Parliament holds the biggest responsibility for what is happening."
In an overnight TV address, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he understood the frustration of the public but there was no "magic solution" to Iraq's problems. He pledged reforms, though these drew scorn from demonstrators.
An AP report adds: Iraq's premier on Friday urged anti-government protesters to go home, saying their "legitimate demands" have been heard while also comparing security measures imposed in the wake of this week's violence, including a curfew, to "bitter medicine" that needs to be swallowed.
But dozens of protesters defied his message, gathering shortly before noon near the central Tahrir Square.
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