Three dead as rival protesters clash in southern Iraq

Nasiriyah, Iraq: Three people were shot dead and dozens wounded in Iraq's south on Friday, medics said, in clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

The violence erupted as tens of thousands of Sadr supporters hit the streets of Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah in a show of force as preparations ramp up for June parliamentary elections.

Their turnout overshadowed the rival youth-dominated movement that had erupted in October 2019 but had petered out in recent months due to geopolitical tensions and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi has called for early polls to take place in June 2021 -- nearly a year ahead of schedule -- to fulfil a key demand of last year's protest movement, which also included Sadrists.

On Friday, followers of the cleric attacked a tent camp of anti-government protesters in Nasiriyah's Habboubi Square, said Mohammad al-Khayyat, a leader of the anti-government movement.

"Sadrists armed with guns and pistols came to try to clear our tents. We fear that more violence could take place," Khayyat told AFP.

Medical sources told AFP that nearly 50 people had been wounded, nine of whom had suffered bullet wounds. - AFP �������������������������