BAGHDAD - Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite Muslim cleric whose coalition won the largest number of seats in last year's parliamentary elections in Iraq, has called on the government to resign.
"The government should resign and early elections should be held under UN supervision," al-Sadr said in a brief written statement on Friday, after a fourth day of protests across the country in which dozens have been reportedly killed.
Al-Sadr earlier urged lawmakers to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government presents a program that is accepted by the people.
Iraq has been rocked since Tuesday by violent protests against poor public services and corruption.
The High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq said 45 people have been killed.
More than 1,900 people have been injured in the protests, according to the independent group.
Four people, including two security personnel, were shot by unidentified snipers in Baghdad, a governmental security media center said, according to the official Iraqi news agency INA. The report did not give further details.
"I am convinced that the number of (dead) and injured is higher than this," a member of the High Commission for Human Rights, Ali al-Bayati, told dpa.
"We are having difficulty in updating the figures because the medical and security agencies refuse to provide us with updates," al-Bayati added.
Al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc earlier said its members would suspend their membership until the government responds to protesters' demands, independent online newspaper Alsumaria News reported.
The bloc urged the government to come up with a specific plan for reforms "meeting the people's demands."
Thousands have taken to the streets in several Iraqi provinces since Tuesday protesting against poor services - in particular access to electricity and clean water - and a lack of jobs.
Protests were met with tear gas and gunshots from security forces, followed by a 24-hour curfew in the capital and other provinces.
Late Friday, Iraqi state television said the curfew in the capital and other provinces will be lifted on Saturday morning.
The protests, which have been largely led by young people, come one year after Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi took office, posing a new challenge to the country, which is still grappling with the aftermath of a U.S.-backed three-year campaign against the Islamic State extremist group.
In a speech Friday, Abdel-Mahdi vowed to respond to the public's "rightful demands," but said that people must return to their normal lives in all provinces. The state had no "magic solutions," he said.
Internet disruptions continued on Friday despite reports that services resumed during the prime minister's speech. Authorities have cut internet access in most of Iraq since Wednesday evening.
The country's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has criticized the government and parliament for failing to carry out reforms and meet the demands of Iraqis.
He condemned the violence and attacks on both protesters and security forces.
Visit Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) at www.dpa.de/English.82.0.html