The prime minister of Iraq, Adel Abdel Mahdi, called for calm late on Thursday after reports said at least 33 people were killed in anti-government protests that broke out three days before. Demonstrators in Baghdad and other cities defied curfew to keep up their protests.

Explosions were heard before in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where a number of government offices and embassies are located. The United States-led coalition said it was investigating the attack, adding that coalition forces and assets were not hit.

The demonstrations started as people took to the streets in protest against rising unemployment and corruption, and demanded better services. The prime minister said he would respond to the protestors’ concerns but warned there was no “magic solution” to the country’s problems.

These are the largest protests in the country since Mahdi became prime minister a year ago. He called on legislators to support him, and promised to pass a new law granting poor families basic income. “I am reaffirming that your voice was heard before you even started protesting,” he said. It would take time to bring about change, the prime minister added.

Late on Wednesday, authorities cut internet access in most of the country as attempts to bring the protests under control failed, AP reported. The curfew was extended to three other southern provinces by Thursday afternoon. Most of the demonstrations were peaceful.

According to AP, many people blamed regional tensions for the protests and the violent reprisal. A few demonstrators in Baghdad blamed groups within the security forces backed by Iran, while press affiliated to groups supporting Tehran pointed fingers at the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned Iran Ambassador Iraj Masjedi to criticise his comment that Tehran would retaliate to a US attack anywhere in the world, including in Iraq.

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