Top cleric calls for progress after Iraq demos
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Last Updated: Saturday, February 26, 2011, 20:39
Najaf (Iraq): Iraq's top cleric on Saturday called on politicians to slash their benefits and improve public services, a day after thousands of protesters took to the streets in a nationwide "Day of Rage".

A human rights group, meanwhile, said investigations had to be opened into the deaths of demonstrators who rallied against high levels of corruption and unemployment as well as poor public services.

In Baghdad, traffic was once again allowed to pass through the capital's Tahrir Square where 5,000 demonstrators had gathered, the biggest of at least 17 separate protests across Iraq.

While the majority of protests were mostly peaceful, clashes with police left 15 demonstrators dead and more than 130 injured, according to tally based on official sources.

Four government buildings were set ablaze and one provincial governor resigned.

The top Shiite Muslim religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said that the government had made progress on improving power supplies, providing food for the needy, creating jobs and combating corruption.

But he also called on Iraq's leaders to "cancel unacceptable benefits" given to current and former politicians, and said they must "not invent unnecessary government positions that cost Iraq money".

Sistani, who is based in the central shrine city of Najaf and rarely wades into politics, warned that the "current way of managing the state will lead to delays in taking radical solutions for people's problems."

His remarks came after New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Iraqi authorities to open inquiries into all deaths as well as any illegal use of force by security forces.

"Any unlawful use of force... should lead to the prosecution of those responsible," the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, February 26, 2011, 20:39

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