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Iraqi forces kill 8 protesters, authorities move to stem unrest

Credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI

Iraqi security forces shot dead at least eight protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Thursday and authorities set up joint military-civilian "crisis cells" to stem unrest after demonstrators burned an Iranian consulate.

NAJAF, Iraq, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces shot dead at least eight protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Thursday and authorities set up joint military-civilian "crisis cells" to stem unrest after demonstrators burned an Iranian consulate.

Security forces opened fire on protesters who had gathered on a bridge in Nassiriya before dawn, medical sources said. Eight were killed and dozens more were wounded in the incident, they said.

A curfew was imposed in the southern holy city of Najaf where protesters stormed and set fire to the Iranian consulate. Businesses and government offices were closed in the city, state media reported.

The torching of the consulate escalated violence in Iraq after weeks of mass demonstrations that aim to bring down a government seen as endemically corrupt and backed by Tehran.

It was the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi demonstrators, who have taken to the streets for weeks in Baghdad and the Shi'ite Muslim-majority south. Hundreds have been killed by Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi authorities had set up "crisis cells" in several provinces to try to restore order, a military statement said.

It said the cells would be led by provincial governors but would include military leaders who would take charge of local security and military forces.

The protests, which began in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and have spread through southern cities, are the most complex challenge facing the Shi'ite-dominated ruling class that has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled long-time Sunni ruler Saddam Hussein.

Protesters are mostly unemployed Shi'ite youth who demand the departure of Iraq's entire political elite.

Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly unarmed protesters. Some demonstrators have lobbed petrol bombs, bricks and fired slingshots at police.

The violence has killed more than 350 people, according to police and medics.

(Reporting by John Davison, Baghdad newsroom)

((John.Davison@thomsonreuters.com;))

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