Iraqi officials said on Thursday that 27 protesters have been shot dead in the last 24 hours, amid spiraling violence in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
Security and medical officials say 23 protesters were killed Thursday by security forces who used live fire to break a sit-in on the main entrance to the southern city of Nassiriya. Following days of road closures by demonstrators, security forces fired live rounds to disperse crowds and open the street, officials say.
Four protesters were shot dead by security forces and 22 were wounded in Baghdad when demonstrators tried to cross the strategic Ahrar bridge leading to the fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government, amid escalating violence.
Security and medical officials say security forces fired live rounds when protesters attempted to climb over barricades on Ahrar Bridge.
Protesters are occupying three key bridges - Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar - in a standoff with security forces, all three bridges lead toward the fortified Green Zone
At least 350 people have died since Oct. 1, when thousands of protesters took to the streets to decry corruption and poor services.
This escalation in violence peaked after anti-government protesters on Wednesday burned the Iranian consulate in southern Iraq in protest of Iran meddling in Iraqi internal affairs, a move acutely condemned by Iran.
Iran's official IRNA news agency said Thursday that Abbas Mousavi, a foreign ministry spokesman, called for a "responsible, strong and effective" response from Iraq's government.
An Iraqi police official had said protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf late Wednesday. Iranian staff was not harmed, escaping out the back door.
The police official said one protester was killed and 35 wounded when police fired live ammunition to prevent them from entering the building. Demonstrators removed the Iranian flag and replaced it with an Iraqi one.
Anti-government protests have gripped Iraq for nearly two months. They accuse Iraq's Shiite-led government of being hopelessly corrupt and decry growing Iranian influence.