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Iraqis keep up anti-regime demos despite PM's vow to quit

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Nasiriyah (Iraq) (AFP)

Iraqis kept up their anti-government protests in Baghdad and across the south on Saturday, unsatisfied with the prime minister's planned resignation and insisting "all corrupted people" must step down.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi announced on Friday he was planning to submit his resignation to parliament but the following day, protests were still ongoing in his birthplace of Nasiriyah, in Iraq's south.

Demonstrations set tyres ablaze on three bridges spanning the Euphrates River as hundreds more converged in the main protest camp in the flashpoint city's centre, according to an AFP correspondent.

Their renewed rallies came despite a bloody crackdown by security forces that left more than 40 protesters dead over the past two days in the city.

The violence was unleashed after protesters stormed and burned the Iranian consulate in the shrine city of Najaf, accusing Iraq's neighbour of propping up the Baghdad government.

That city, too, saw security forces and armed men in civilian clothes try to snuff out rallies in the aftermath of the consulate torching, leaving more than 20 protesters dead, medics told AFP.

Five of them were shot dead by men in civilian clothes who fired on young protesters approaching a revered religious tomb or political party headquarters.

The city of Najaf was relatively calm on Saturday, according to AFP's correspondent, but protests there usually swell in the afternoon and evening.

Iraq's second holy city Karbala was rocked by overnight clashes between young protesters and security forces trading fire bombs until the early hours of the morning.

And in Diwaniyah, thousands hit the streets early to demand "the downfall of the regime."

"We'll keep up this movement. Abdel Mahdi's resignation is only the first step, and now all corrupt figures must be removed and judged," one protester told AFP.

The grassroots movement is the largest Iraq has seen in decades and also the deadliest, with more than 420 people killed and 15,000 wounded in Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south, according to an AFP tally.

The rising deaths have sparked global criticism, with the United Nations saying the deaths "cannot be tolerated" and the French foreign ministry saying it "strongly condemns the excessive and disproportionate use of force against protesters".

In a written statement on Friday Abdel Mahdi said he would submit a formal letter to parliament "requesting my resignation" in keeping with the wishes of the country's top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The premier did not say give further details but parliament is due to meet on Sunday.

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