February 27, 2011 / 5:40 PM / 6 years ago

Iraq PM sets 100 day deadline for gov after protests

<p>Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi speaks during a news conference in Baghdad February 27, 2011.Mohammed Ameen</p>

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gave his ministers on Sunday a 100 day ultimatum to step up reforms or face the sack after nationwide protests against corruption and poor basic services.

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets on Friday to protest against shortages of electricity, food rations and jobs, and called for some provincial officials to step down.

Politicians, who have already tried to appease citizens by diverting money from fighter jets to food, giving out free power and cutting their own pay, were quick to act after Friday's "Day of Rage" when at least 10 people died and scores were wounded.

On Sunday, the governor of southern Babil province Salman al-Zarqani resigned, while parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi called for a new provincial vote within three to four months.

Provincial elections were held in 2009 and are not due before 2013.

Maliki, who secured a second term in office late last year, told his cabinet that officials who failed to respond to the demands of Iraqis within the 100 day deadline would be fired.

"We will set 100 days to decide the success or failure of the ministry or the province in quickly responding to the processes of building, reconstruction and reforms," Maliki told his cabinet in an urgent meeting on Sunday.

"I find myself obliged to ask for a change in implemented laws, ministers, deputies, governors, managers and inspectors if it is proved they are not capable of responding to the call of duty and to people's demands," he added.

Protests have been growing throughout Iraq, which is still struggling to get back on its feet eight years after the U.S.-led invasion and decades of sanctions.

But unlike other countries in the region, Iraqis have been pressing more for reforms over essential services, rather than the removal of Iraq's democratically elected government, formed just two months ago.

On Sunday, hundreds of people rallied in Maysan in the south and Sulaimaniya in the north over a lack of basic services.

EARLY ELECTIONS

Speaker Nujaifi said the assembly was to discuss holding an early provincial council vote by next week and that the election law would need to be amended.

"There should be new elections so the people can decide who will govern them in all provinces," he told a news conference.

On Saturday, the governor of oil hub Basra, Shaltagh Abboud, handed in his resignation in response to protesters' demands.

In Maysan, a medical source at Amara hospital said 21 people, including seven policemen and two children, were wounded in clashes between demonstrators and security forces on Sunday. A curfew was also put in effect.

Nujaifi called for an investigation to be opened in all provinces where people had died in clashes during Friday's rallies and criticised the arrest of some protesters.

"We condemn the suppression and do not accept what happened to the protesters, such as them being shot at, the use of excessive force and the arrests of citizens and media," he said.

On social networking site Facebook, groups supporting change in Iraq continued to press for more demonstrations.

"We call on the sons of our country to continue these demonstrations," one group calling for "A free Iraq," which had more than 27,000 supporters, said.

"Today this revolution has produced its first fruit represented in the downfall of the corrupt local and provincial councils."

Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra, Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil, Ahmed Rasheed and Khalid al-Ansary in Baghdad; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Rania El Gamal

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