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Iraq's top Shia cleric Sistani criticizes government

AP , Friday 4 Oct 2019
Iraqiya
An image grab taken from Iraqiya state TV channel shows Ahmad Al-Safi, a representative of Iraq's Shia spiritual leader, reading a statement in which Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged Iraq to heed protesters 'before it's too late' during a televised speech following the weekly Friday prayer at a mosque in the central shrine city of Karbala on October 4, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
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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 criticized the government, as well as the leaders of the two biggest parliament blocs, saying they failed to fulfill 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.

An Iraqi protester
An Iraqi protester hides behind a wall on October 4, 2019 during demonstrations against state corruption, failing public services, and unemployment in the Iraqi capital Baghdad's central Khellani Square. (Photo: AFP)

Al-Sistani's message was delivered on Friday by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the Shia holy city of Karbala.

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 kilometers, or 200 miles, southeast of Baghdad.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press 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.

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."

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