Irem UZUN -TDO-At least 21 people have been killed in Iraq as anti-government protests resumed after a three-week hiatus. Iraqi police on Friday fired rubber bullets and volleys of tear gas canisters to disperse thousands of protesters that had gathered in the capital, Baghdad. Medics said two protesters were killed when they were hit by teargas canisters.

Tens of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on Friday morning to begin the march to the city’s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are located, but were blocked by police on the al-Jumhuriya bridge.

Iraqis are not simply calling for the downfall of a leader or political party. Instead, they are calling for the end of a political system which has existed since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 - a system which, they argue, has failed them. The protesters are calling for an overhaul of the country's political system and an end to official corruption amid growing anger over chronically high unemployment and poor public services.

Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi said that people would be free to exercise their right to demonstrate, but warned violence would not be tolerated. The prime minister stressed a government collapse would drag Iraq into further turmoil."The resignation of the government today without a constitutional alternative will lead the country into chaos," he said. He also announced that government salaries, including for top officials, would be gradually halved, with funds redirected to a social security fund for the country's poorest citizens.

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