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Massive protests continue in Iraq over lack of jobs and water shortages

Islamist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr calls for halt to government talks until the people's demands are met

HUGE protests continued across southern Iraq and Baghdad today as Islamist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for talks aimed at forming a government to be suspended until the demands of the people are met.

Demonstrations took place in the capital Baghdad and oil-rich Basra with a crucial road linking the province of Maysan to Iran blocked as protesters called on the central government to end the water and electricity crisis affecting large parts of the country.

In Baghdad's Tahrir Square the protesters chanted "Neither Shi'ite or Sunni, secular, secular" in a show of unity across the often deadly sectarian divide. 

As the government of Haider al-Abadi struggles to contain the growing demonstrations, Islamist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr expressed his support for the protesters, calling for the suspension of attempts to form a government.

“All political blocs which won in the current elections should suspend all political discussions to form alliances until the protesters’ legitimate demands are met,” he said.

Mr Sadr's Sairoun coalition - an electoral alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party - came out on top in May's general election, but attempts to form a government have been hampered by a recount of the vote due to allegations of fraud, which is currently underway.

Mr Abadi has been criticised for his response to the protests which has seen mass arrests and the suspension of the internet as government forces use violence and excessive force.

People are angry at a lack of employment and a severe water shortages with temperatures rising above 50°C in some areas. Government officials failed to reach an agreement with Iran over the supply of electricity in crunch talks earlier this week with shortages across the country.

Similar protests are growing in neighbouring Iran with activists warning that the water crisis is becoming a "political issue" across the Middle East.

The Iraqi Human Rights Association said today at least 12 people have been killed with 571 injured during the protests. Its report claimed that 195 of those wounded were civilians with the rest reported to be security forces.

The group confirmed that 302 people have been arrested during the unrest with many of them put in prison.

They urged demonstrators to protest peacefully and warned it was unacceptable to attack buildings and property.

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