- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2020

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraqi security forces shot and killed at least one protester in the country’s south on Monday, official said as the five-month anti-government protest movement enters a critical stage.

Security forces fired live rounds to disperse crowds at the rally site near the al-Ain University in the southern city of Nasiriyah, killing a demonstrator, two medical officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The latest death comes as the anti-government protests, which engulfed Baghdad and Iraq’s south in October, are at a key point as activists are trying to maintain a critical number of people on the street and tensions continue to escalate between the demonstrators and the followers of a leading radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Nasiriyah has emerged as a frequent flashpoint of protest violence.

At least eight protesters were killed in the southern city of Najaf last Wednesday, when followers of al-Sadr stormed the protest site and fired live bullets.

Al-Sadr initially threw his weight behind the anti-government uprising but recently re-positioned himself toward the political establishment after political elites selected Mohammed Allawi as prime minister-designate, a candidate he endorsed.

Since then, al-Sadr has issued a dizzying array of contradictory calls to followers, asking them to return to the streets, days after withdrawing support from the protests. His conflicting calls have exacerbated existing tensions between anti-government demonstrators and the cleric’s followers.

Anti-government protesters who took to the streets last October in Baghdad and southern Iraq to decry rampant government corruption, poor services and unemployment, have rejected Allawi’s candidacy. At least 500 have died under fire from security forces in the movement, now in it’s fifth month.

On Sunday, Baghdad University students held national flags during a protest in front of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the Iraqi capital.

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