11 March 2019, Iraq, Baghdad: Iraqi President Barham Salih speaks during a press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (not pictured) at As-Salam Presidential Palace.

11 March 2019, Iraq, Baghdad: Iraqi President Barham Salih speaks during a press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (not pictured) at As-Salam Presidential Palace. (Ameer Al Mohmmedaw/dpa /Abaca Press/TNS)

BAGHDAD - Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the violence that has killed more than 100 people in anti-government rallies over the past week, as he announced a series of measures aimed at meeting the demands of the thousands of demonstrators.

"The right to protest and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution," Salih said in a televised speech.

Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets since Oct. 1 in the oil-rich country to protest corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor services - in particular access to electricity and clean water.

More than 104 people, mainly demonstrators, have been killed and about 6,107 others injured in the protests.

An investigation will be held to find the causes of violence and find "mechanisms to deal with similar protests and take serious measures to prevent the use of excessive force," the president said.

The Iraqi military said Monday that an "excessive force beyond the engagement rules" was used in the clashes and measures to hold officers who committed such mistakes accountable have begun via investigating councils.

But Salih did not directly point the finger at the military.

He instead blamed "criminals who fired live ammunition on protesters and security forces" adding that these are "enemies of the homeland."

He also condemned attacks that took place targeting media, after Iraqi broadcaster NRT and Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya reported that their Baghdad offices were attacked by unknown gunmen on Saturday.

Salih said a committee of independent figures will be formed to open a dialogue with the protesters and come up with a "binding roadmap" to help the government combat corruption and provide better services.

Salih also called for a Cabinet reshuffle to ensure "a qualitative leap" and improve public services. He also called for reviewing the electoral law in order to meet the "national ambitions" of the people.

A council will also be formed to look into job applications "fairly" and will give graduates the priority in employment.

Unemployment was estimated at 13.8% at the end of 2018.

"These measures and suggestions will not be the end of the road ... it will provide a ground for starting real reform," Salih said.

Protests continued Monday, as dozens of protesters took to the streets in Baghdad's Sadr City eastern suburb chanting slogans demanding job opportunities and denouncing the killing of demonstrators the night before, witnesses told dpa.

The demonstrations took place after Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi ordered replacing army troops in the area with police following the use of "excessive force" against demonstrators.

At least eight people were killed in clashes between army forces and protesters in Sadr City on Sunday night, according to witnesses.

A security source said scores of people were wounded.

Visit Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) at www.dpa.de/English.82.0.html

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