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Two killed, 200 wounded in Iraqi protests after police open fire

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least two people were killed and 200 wounded in clashes in Iraq on Tuesday as security forces used tear gas, water cannon and live fire to disperse demonstrations over unemployment, corruption and poor public services.

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The main protest took place in Baghdad, with some demonstrations in other areas.

A government statement and a health ministry spokesman said one person was killed, and that 40 members of the security forces were among those injured. They did not say where the death took place.

Police sources in the southern city of Nassiriya said a protester there was shot dead.

The government statement blamed “groups of riot inciters” for the violence and said the security forces were working to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters.

In Baghdad, police opened fire in the air as some 3,000 protesters tried to cross a bridge leading into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

Reuters reporters saw several people with blood covering their faces. Ambulances rushed in to transport the wounded.

Security forces blocked roads and used stun grenades and water cannons to push back crowds. Protesters refused to leave and so security forces opened fire.

Since similar but more deadly protests took place last year, public anger has simmered over a chronic shortage of job opportunities, electricity and clean water.

Iraqis blame politicians and officials for endemic corruption that is preventing Iraq from recovering after years of sectarian conflict and a devastating war to defeat Islamic State.

“This is not a government, it is a bunch of parties and militias who destroyed Iraq,” said one protester who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal.

Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilisation Forces play a large role in Iraqi politics and have representation in parliament and government. They are also said to control parts of Iraq’s economy, which they deny.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who chaired the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, issued a statement promising jobs for graduates. He instructed the oil ministry and other government bodies to start including a 50% quota for local workers in subsequent contracts with foreign companies.

Oil-rich Iraq has suffered for decades under the rule of Saddam Hussein and U.N. sanctions, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and civil war it unleashed, and the battle against Islamic State, which was declared won in 2017.

Reporting by Thaier al-Sudani and Haider Kadhim; Additional reporting by Khaled Abdul Qader, John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein, John Davison; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool