Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr suspends parliament activities


The latest on developments in Iraq, amid deadly violence over anti-government protests (all times local):

3:45 p.m. An influential Iraqi Shia cleric whose political coalition came in first in last year's national elections says he's suspending participation in parliament activities until the government introduces a programme that serves Iraqi aspirations. Muqtada al-Sadr has asked members of his parliament bloc to boycott sessions until the government issues a programme acceptable to the people. Al-Sadr's Sairoon electoral list won the largest single bloc of seats in parliament elections last year. The bloc has 54 seats in the 329-member parliament. The move comes after Iraq's top Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, blamed lawmakers for failing to enact reforms and eradicate corruption.

3:30 p.m. Three Gulf Arab nations have advised their citizens to avoid traveling to Iraq and those who are there to leave the country immediately. Friday's call by Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain comes after three days of protests in Iraq that have left 42 people dead. The Kuwaiti news agency Kuna cited a Foreign Ministry official as urging Kuwaiti nationals to avoid traveling to Iraq due to the demonstrations and for those already there to leave as soon as possible and to avoid areas where protests are held. Qatar's Foreign Ministry issued a similar request. Bahrain's Foreign Ministry also called on its country's citizens not to travel to Iraq and urged those already in Iraq to "leave immediately". [embed:render:embedded:node:14430]

3:15 p.m. Iraqi security forces have again opened fire on protesters gathered in central Baghdad, wounding one person on the fourth day of violence amid anti-government rallies. The protesters were gathered in a street behind Tayaran Square on Friday, chanting slogans when security forces opened fire. A young man was shot in the leg. It was the first shooting after Iraq's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, earlier in the day called on both sides to cease violence, which has gripped Iraq since Tuesday. Many across Iraq's predominantly Shia south had looked to the influential cleric for guidance.

1:15 p.m. Iraq's most influential Shia cleric has called for an end to the violence gripping the country, urging both sides to pull back "before it is too late." The comments by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani were his first since anti-government protests began earlier this week. The violence has killed 42 people so far. He also criticised the government, as well as the leaders of the two biggest parliament blocs, saying they failed to fulfil their promises to the people. Al-Sistani called on political leaders to take "practical and clear steps" toward combatting corruption and on the government to "carry out its duty" to diminish people's suffering. He reiterated his suggestion for a committee of technocrats tasked with making recommendations on fighting corruption, as a way out of the current crisis. Al-Sistani's message was delivered on Friday by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the Shia holy city of Karbala.

12:30 p.m. Iraqi officials are reporting nine more deaths in anti-government protests in a southern city, bringing this week's overall death toll to 42. Hospital officials say the deaths occurred late Thursday in Nasiriyah, which has witnessed the most violence in the protests, with at least 25 people, including a policeman, killed. The city is about 320 kilometres southeast of Baghdad. The officials spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Since Tuesday, security forces have fired live rounds and tear gas every day to disperse protesters demanding job opportunities, improved services and an end to corruption. Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi who hails from Nasiriyah, has urged calm, saying he's working to meet protesters legitimate demands but adding that there's no magic solution for Iraq's problems.

8:35 a.m. Iraq's prime minister has addressed the nation over the turmoil gripping the country, calling on protesters to go home and saying their demands have been heard. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi says that the security measures imposed in the wake of this week's violence, including the temporary curfew, are "difficult choices" but are needed like "bitter medicine" that has to be swallowed. Iraqi security forces have imposed a round-the-clock curfew in Baghdad. Since Tuesday, they fired live rounds and tear gas every day to disperse anti-government protests, leaving 33 people dead and wounding hundreds. The prime minister's speech was televised early on Friday. He told protesters their "legitimate" demands in countering corruption and providing jobs have been heard and that it's "important to help the government perform its duty toward you."    (AP)

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