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Protesters Killed as Iraqis Stage 'Day of Rage' Protest

Iraqi riot police officers prevent anti-government protesters from entering the heavily guarded Green Zone during a demonstration in Baghdad, February 25, 2011

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Friday in a nationwide "Day of Rage" that left at least 11 people dead in clashes with security forces.

At least five people were reported killed in the northern city of Mosul, while clashes also erupted in other cities, including Tikrit, Hawija, Fallujah, Samarra and the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Many of the casualties occurred as security forces fired shots to disperse crowds closing in on government buildings. Protesters also set several buildings on fire.

In Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down concrete blast walls and threw stones at riot police blocking a bridge leading to the city's heavily-fortified Green Zone of government buildings and embassies.

Friday's demonstrations, planned for weeks, were the latest in a series of protests in Iraq inspired by uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations. Iraqis have been calling for better public services and measures to clean up government corruption.

Friday's protests did not draw as many people as expected, though, after Shi'ite religious leaders discouraged their followers from taking part.

Organizers had publicized the gatherings through online social networks, such as Facebook.

Security was high Friday in and around Baghdad's Tahrir [Liberation] Square, the center of the demonstrations. The city was under vehicle curfew, forcing protesters to walk to the protest site.

In a televised speech Thursday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had urged Iraqis to boycott the protests, saying they were organized by insurgents and supporters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, seeking to incite violence.

In response to the protests, Maliki has cut his own pay and increased funding for food programs for the needy.

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