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Iraqi president promises early elections amid new clashes in Baghdad

Iraq's president promised Thursday to hold early elections as protesters clashed with security forces near Baghdad's Green Zone, leaving at least one person dead and scores wounded.

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Iraq's president vowed on Thursday to hold early elections in response to a month of deadly protests, but demonstrators said the move fell far short of their demands for a political overhaul.

In his first televised address in weeks, President Barham Saleh said the country's embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi was ready to step down, but there was so far no one to take his place.

"The prime minister expressed his willingness to submit his resignation, asking the political parties to reach an agreement on an acceptable alternative," said Saleh.

He pledged to hold early elections as soon as a new voting law and overnight commission was agreed, but his speech did not appear to impress demontrators.

"Barham's speech is just an opiate for the masses," said Haydar Kazem, 49.

"Abdel Mahdi's resignation isn't a solution, it's part of the solution. The problem is with the ruling parties, not with Abdel Mahdi."

Iraq's leaders have scrambled to respond to massive protests that erupted on October 1 over unemployment and corruption, ballooning into demands for "the downfall of the regime."

Saleh has held closed-door talks with top figures over Abdel Mahdi's ouster and parliament has called on the PM to come in for questioning.

Abdel Mahdi has so far resisted, saying one condition for his appearance would be that the session be televised.

Lawmakers met Thursday for a fourth consecutive day and agreed to broadcast any session live, with Saeroon MPs chanting: "Adel must come! Adel must come!"

UN warns against 'inaction'

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power a year ago through a tenuous partnership between populist cleric Moqtada Sadr and paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri.

The kingmakers' alliance has frayed in recent months, as Sadr threw his weight behind the protests while Ameri and his allies backed the government.

A rapprochement built on Abdel Mahdi's ouster appeared close on Tuesday night, but disagreements over who could replace him seemed to have slowed down the process.

The United Nations' top representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called for a national dialogue to draw a roadmap out of the crisis.

"Today Iraq stands at a crossroads. Progress through dialogue, or divisive inaction," she said.

"Full access to all information, facts and figures will prove key. Window dressing will only feed anger and resentment."

Since the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq's political system has been gripped by clientelism, corruption and sectarianism.

Getting a job in government, the country's biggest employer, is often secured with bribes or connections.

One in five Iraqis live below the poverty line and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC's second-largest crude producer.

That inequality has been a rallying cry for the protests.

"We're tired of the whole situation over the past 16 years. The country went from bad to worse," said Salwa Mezher, a middle-aged woman demonstrating in Baghdad.

'Let them leave'

Crowds occupied the emblematic Tahrir (Liberation) Square in the capital for the eighth consecutive day.

The southern city of Diwaniyah saw its largest rallies yet: students, teachers, farmers and health workers hit the streets as government offices remained closed.

In Basra, demonstrators cut off a main road leading to the Umm Qasr port, its authorities said, one of the main conduits fooRead More – Source

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