ASUU Strike: Students Demand Immediate Resolution, Issue Ultimatum To FG

University SUG presidents address a press conference in Ibadan, Oyo State on November 12, 2020.

 

Members of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in the South West and Kwara State have demanded an immediate resolution to the lingering strike that has crippled academic activities at various universities.

They made the demand on Friday at a press conference held at the University of Ibadan in the Oyo State capital.

Abiodun Oloyede, the President of the Students’ Union Government (SUG) at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), spoke on behalf of the students.

He said, “We have waited, we have hoped, but this is the eighth month and there seems to be no breakthrough in sight.

“Several engagements between the Federal Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities, since the inception of this strike, have always been resulting in a deadlock.”

“It is on that noted that we are making our position and demands to the Federal Government of Nigeria very clear and explicit.

“We the great students of the Federation, hereby request an end to the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities; the struggle of ASUU should never be undermined as we truly know that the revitalisation and improvement in the quality of infrastructure at regulation of payment of salary are dearly needed,” Oloyede added.

FUNAAB SUG President, Abiodun Oloyede, addressing a press conference in Ibadan, Oyo State on November 12, 2020.

 

According to him, the students have issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Federal Government or get ready to face a national agitation by the student bodies.

The students noted with concern that the government has not found a way out of the industrial action which started on March 23.

They called for a compromise between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to put an end to the suffering of young Nigerians in the university.

The group also stressed the need for the government to recognise education as a major factor for sustainable growth and development, thereby making better funding of universities a priority.

“Please, we urgently call for a compromise to be reached by both parties; the future of students is at stake, some have lost faith in education in this country and it is a great slap on the face of the nation.

“Not every parent or guardian can afford to send their children to private universities,” said Oloyede.

The press conference had in attendance presidents of the student unions of various universities in the South West, as well as Kwara State.

It was convened following the series of meetings between the government and ASUU which ended inconclusively, a development that has left students out of the classroom for several months.

Cameroon School Attack Killed 8 Students, Says UN

Cameroon flag.

 

Attackers armed with guns and machetes killed at least eight children Saturday in a raid on a school in southwestern Cameroon, the United Nations said.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack on the bilingual school in Kumba, but the area has been caught up in violence between Anglophone separatists and government forces for three years.

“At least eight children were killed as a result of gunshots and attack with machetes,” at the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a statement by the local UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

“Another twelve were wounded and taken to local hospitals,” it added, which would make it one of the worst such attacks in the region to date.

A source close to police added that the children were killed when a “group of nine terrorist assailants” stormed the school and opened fire on pupils aged between nine and 12 years.

“There are no words for the grief nor condemnation strong enough to express my horror at the brutal attack which targeted primary school children… while they were sitting learning, in their classroom,” said President of the African Union Moussa Faki Mahamat on Twitter.

“I unreservedly condemn the acts of barbarism committed in Kumba. Murdering children… is to attack the very foundations of our nation,” said Cameroon Public Health Minister Malachie Manaouda.

Two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, Southwest and Northwest provinces, have long chaffed against perceived discrimination from the country’s French-speaking majority.

The two regions have become the centre of a conflict involving separatist militants who have targeted the army and demanded local government offices and schools close.

Fighting has claimed more than 3,000 lives and forced over 700,000 people to flee their homes since 2017.

Authorities did not blame any group for Saturday’s attack.

Chamberlin Ntou’ou Ndong, prefect of the Meme department where the Kumba school is located, vowed however that “these people will be caught whatever it takes. I repeat, whatever it takes.”

In early September, the army launched its latest operation against militants in the Northwest region.

Since it began, the movement became more radicalised, and separatists renamed the regions the Republic of Ambazonia, which has never been recognised internationally.

Their strategy included a school boycott, said Arrey Elvis Ntui, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Cameroon.

“Around 700,000 young people were excluded from the school system owing to the conflict,” he told AFP.

“The government and anglophone civil society have put a lot of pressure on separatist groups to allow their children to go back to school, and some that had closed in recent years have begun to resume classes again,” Ntui said.

Last year, two students were killed by separatists in Buea, the capital of Southwest Region in what an official described as “reprisal” for opposing the forced school closures.

In 2018, insurgents killed a principal, mutilated a teacher and attacked several high schools.

Separatists have also increasingly resorted kidnappings and extortion, along with attacks on troops and police, and arson assaults on public buildings and schools.

The government has responded with a crackdown, deploying thousands of soldiers.

AFP

PHOTOS: Students Protest Closure Of Tertiary Institutions

Students under the aegis of National Association of Nigerian Students during a protest to demand the reopening of Tertiary Institutions by the Nigerian Government amid the coronavirus lockdown in Abuja on Wednesday 19th August 2020. Photo: Sodiq Adelakun/ Channels Television

 

Students under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students are demanding the reopening of Tertiary Institutions.

The Federal Government had on March 19 ordered the closure of all higher institutions in the country as precautionary measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

But taking to Abuja, the nation’s capital on Wednesday, the students carried placards, registering their displeasure over the continued closure of schools.

They argued that if the government can reopen major markets, some relaxation centres, religious centres, schools also should be reopened so as not to truncate the future of the Nigerian students.

See Photos Below: 

Students Must Not Exceed 20 Per Class, Says Lagos Govt

 

The Lagos State Government in its bid to ensure compliance of public and private schools to Covid-19 protocols and guidelines for schools reopening paid a random visit to some schools across the State.

Honourable Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo led a monitoring team to assess the process in which the students were received, ensuring that Covid-19 protocols were strictly adhered to in order to reduce the risk of the disease to the barest minimum.

Addressing Pressmen during an inspection tour of some public and private Schools at Education District IV around Yaba, Surulere and Apapa axis, Mrs. Adefisayo expressed satisfaction with the level of preparedness of the schools, adding that the State Government is very concerned about the safety of students and their teachers.

She stressed that their wellbeing is of utmost importance to the State Government.

She said asides her visitation to schools, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Tutor Generals/Permanent Secretaries of the Six Education Districts, Office Education Quality Assurance, and other top officials of the Ministry were also on the field across the State to ensure that maximum compliance and coordination is achieved.

The Commissioner noted that the inspection tour will continue till all Schools are covered and stated that any school accommodating other students apart from SS3 and TEC3 contrary to the state government’s directive at this period will face disciplinary action.

She emphasized that the resumption became necessary for the students to write their WASSCE Examinations and encouraged them to put in their best in the forthcoming exams taking place in two weeks’ time in a bid to come out successful.

She also urged them to shun all vices, work hard, and stay focused on their studies.

The Honourable Commissioner admonished teachers to take care of themselves and also to take up the role of enforcement and compliance to the Covid-19 protocols by students. She hinted that the bulk of these efforts lies in their hands as they are the custodians of the students while at school. She reiterated that students must not exceed 20 per class in compliance to social distancing.

She however called on parents/guardians to monitor the children/wards closely as their roles are germane and complimentary at this period. She concluded that all hands must be on deck to curb the spread and flatten the curve, stressing that the government will leave no stone unturned.

In her words, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Abosede Adelaja added that the Lagos State Government has provided free face masks and sanitizers for all students. She noted that aside from fumigating the schools and ensuring a clean and conducive environment for learning, the State Government has also provided facilities such as wash hand basins and portable water.

She, therefore, enthused that all policies made by government in ensuring that the Covid-19 protocols are strictly adhered to while noting that visitors and food vendors coming into the school premises during this period are not allowed.

Earlier, the Lagos State Government directed the SS3 and Technical Studies Three (TEC3) Students to resume schooling on the 3rd of August 2020 in preparation for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination scheduled to commence on the 17th August, 2020.

Police Recover Bodies Of Two Students In Imo

A file photo of a police van.

 

The police in Imo State have recovered the bodies of two students at a Vic-Mic lodge in Nekede area of the state.

The deceased until their death were students of the Federal Polytechnic in Nekede.

Confirming the incident to Channels Television, the spokesman of the State Police Command, Orlando Ikeokwu, identified the dead as Cynthia Obieshi and Samuel Osuji.

Ikeokwu explained that the students were believed to have taken substance suspected to be drugs.

READ ALSO: 21-Year-Old Student Killed In Oyo

He noted that the Divisional Police Headquarters, Nekede/Ihiagwa acting on intelligent report moved to Room 19, Vic-Mic Lodge broke into the room and found two lifeless bodies.

According to the police spokesman, Cynthia was said to have visited her boyfriend Samuel who is the original owner of the room.

He also reiterated the commitment of the Commissioner of Police to unravel the real cause of the death, stressing that preliminary investigations revealed that the deceased might have taken substance suspected to be drugs.

Senegal Engineering Students Fight COVID-19 With Inventions

Lamine Mouhamed Kébé (R), a final year mechanical engineering student and coordinator of the “Dr. Car”, and Pape Mamadou Gueye (L), a bachelor’s student in mechanical engineering at Dakar’s Ecole Superieur de Polytechnique (ESP) handles a small robot in the school’s lab on May 8, 2020. Seyllou / AFP.

 

Senegalese engineering students are throwing themselves at the West African state’s growing coronavirus problem with inventions such as automatic sanitiser dispensers and medical robots.

Youngsters from a top engineering school in the capital Dakar have turned their technical skills toward easing pressure on the wards — and they are already in talks with hospitals over some of their innovations.

One example is a small robot, dubbed ‘Dr. Car’, which will be able to measure patients’ blood pressure and temperature, according to students from Dakar’s Ecole Superieure Polytechnique (ESP).

The university is considered one of West Africa’s best for engineering and technology, and is highly selective, with 28 nationalities represented among its 4,000 students.

Lamine Mouhamed Kebe, one of the students who conceived the robot, said the machine would reduce the exposure of doctors and nurses to infected patients and use of expensive protective gear.

“At a certain point … we realised that medical equipment was limited,” the 23-year-old added. “We can do something”.

Guided by a mounted camera and controlled via an app, doctors will also be able to communicate with patients through the robot, Kebe said, potentially allowing them to treat people isolated in hard-to-reach rural areas.

READ ALSO: New Resolution On Pandemic Truce Presented To UN Security Council

Senegal’s coronavirus outbreak pales in comparison to the situation in virus-stricken Europe and the United States.

But after a slow start, confirmed cases in the nation of some 16 million people are increasing.

And as with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Senegal is ill equipped to handle a large outbreak.

Authorities have recorded more than 1,700 cases to date, including 19 fatalities. Hospital staff in Dakar are also beginning to contract COVID-19.

Faced with an increased threat, frontline Senegalese doctors are taking the young engineers seriously.

An initial prototype designed by the students was essentially a small mobile trolley, designed to carry equipment or meals to patients.

But Abdoulaye Bousso, the head of an emergency ward in a Dakar hospital, asked to redesign it to include mechanical arms capable of conducting medical tests — an upgrade the students are working on now.

“It’s a whole process,” Bousso said, adding that the robot could cut down on their use of expensive bibs and gowns, which must be thrown away.

– Focus on practicality –

Ndiaga Ndiaye, an ESP professor in charge of marketing the inventions, said that the university has long emphasised practical projects and entrepreneurship, which meant students were poised to act when the virus broke out.

The robot is “far from being a gadget,” he said, and could be produced at a larger scale once ready.

“We are a public institution. There is one concept that binds us all together, and that is service to the community,” he said.

Other students have devised simpler devices that they also hope will battle the disease in Senegal.

Gianna Andjembe, a masters student in electrical engineering, has designed an automatic hand-sanitiser dispenser that he said could reduce the need for staff in schools and hospitals to supervise hand-washing.

“It’s very simple, it’s basic,” said the 26-year-old.

“As scientists, as engineers, we have to meet the challenges and really take our destiny into our own hands,” Andjembe added.

The coronavirus has upended ESP students’ lives.

Lectures are now held over video and students who used to tinker in labs until late at night must now rush home owing to a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

But the crisis has also given the young engineers a sense of purpose.

“What has changed is the responsibility,” robot maker Kebe said before adding that the students also felt “much more patriotism”.

AFP

Russian Medical Students Slam ‘Forced Labour’ In COVID-19 Wards

This photo taken on May 1, 2020 shows staff wearing hazmat suits as a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus checking a driver at a customs checkpoint on the border with Russia at Suifenhe, in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province. STR / AFP.

 

Fourth-year medical student Alexandra says she wants to become an infection specialist, but when her school said students must do their required training in a coronavirus ward, she balked.

“This is not volunteering by choice. Coronavirus is dangerous, and they should give people a choice,” said Alexandra, who studies at Moscow’s top Sechenov medical university.

Daunted by the prospects of contracting the virus and infecting family members, or face expulsion, aspiring medics have protested the decision to send students in their fourth, fifth and sixth year — who can be as young as 21 — to complete their medical training in coronavirus clinics.

The ministry of health announced on April 27 that the measure would go into effect starting May 1, and only students with “medical contraindications” can refuse.

Students of all medical fields, including dentistry and pediatrics, are affected, according to the decree.

“Those who refuse to go will not get their qualification and can face expulsion,” said Svetlana, a sixth-year student.

READ ALSO: Putin Lifts Russia’s COVID-19 ‘Non-working’ Period From Tuesday

Confronted with a relentless daily increase of confirmed cases, which on Sunday pushed its total number over 200,000, Russia is taking measures to staff its hospitals as it expands the number of beds by 100,000 across the country.

But many students say they don’t want to be put in such conditions without allocated housing and assurances that full protection will be issued.

– ‘We’re not doctors yet’ –

Svetlana, Alexandra and other students spoke to AFP on conditions of anonymity due to fears of being expelled or other reprisals.

“We’re not doctors yet, our task is to get an education,” said Alexandra. “There are fears that we will be of no use and spread the infection instead.”

She said students are offered training in regular hospitals, or coronavirus hospitals, including “red zones” where patients are treated for COVID-19.

“There is no adequate protection, and it’s difficult to believe that if the doctors don’t have enough, they would find it for us,” she said.

In an anonymous appeal circulated on social networking sites, students at the Pirogov medical university in Moscow have asked rector Sergei Lukyanov to make the coronavirus mobilisation “voluntary.”

The Pirogov university and the department of health in the Moscow government did not respond to a request for comment.

At the Sechenov university, vice-rector Tatyana Litvinova said that working with coronavirus patients would not be obligatory and the school would not punish anyone who declines.

“If a student does not want to do it, they can do their practice in a different establishment, nobody is going to force them,” she told AFP, contradicting the text of the health ministry decree.

She further promised that students in Moscow would be paid a salary of 100,000 rubles ($1,360 – 1,240 euros) and given personal protection.

Ivan Konovalov, spokesman for the Alliance of Doctors, a union associated with opposition politician Alexei Navalny, said that the authorities have turned to students because of medical staff shortages.

“Healthcare reforms of the past years have led to the departure of many doctors” from the profession, he said.

This problem was even flagged by some government institutions like the Audit Chamber, which stated that “optimisation” of the sector — a euphemism for cuts — has left Russian healthcare weakened during the epidemic.

– Shortage of doctors –

But Russia needs more doctors, not less: staff are required at various temporary facilities set up in the past weeks for light coronavirus cases, as the number of people testing positive has grown by over 10,000 daily for over a week.

More than 100 doctors have died treating the infection, according to a list of names kept by people in the profession.

Konovalov said that despite these difficulties, reaching out to students is not the solution.

“Even those in their last year don’t have experience to work in these conditions,” he said.

Students have also launched an online petition, demanding that the ministry decree is revoked. An Instagram campaign against “forced labour” is ongoing.

Not all Russians are sympathetic.

“Why did you choose this profession? To save lives!” one user of the VK network named Marina Goncharova commented in a group dedicated to the subject. “If war breaks out, are you also going to hide behind your mother’s skirts?”

AFP

COVID-19: More than 850 Million Students Shut Out of School – UNESCO

 

More than 850 million young people, or about half the world’s student population, are barred from their school and university grounds because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, UNESCO said Wednesday.

Calling it an “unprecedented challenge,” UNESCO said schools had been closed in 102 countries, with partial closures in 11 more — with more closures to come.

“Over 850 million children and youth — roughly half of the world’s student population — had to stay away from schools and universities,” the UN educational organisation said in a statement.

“This represents more than a doubling in four days in the number of learners prohibited from going to educational institutions,” it added, citing figures from late Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Facebook, Google In Talks With Washington To Track infections 

“The scale and speed of the school and university closures represents an unprecedented challenge for the education sector,” it said.

UNESCO said countries worldwide were rushing to fill the void by offering real-time video classes and other high-tech solutions.

Some countries were offering classes over television or radio.

The organisation said it was holding regular virtual meetings with education ministers around the world to find the best solutions and determine priorities.

“The current situation imposes immense challenges for countries to be able to provide uninterrupted learning for all children and youth in an equitable manner,” it said.

AFP

Indian Students Protest After Being Stripped For Menstruation Checks

 

Scores of women students staged a protest outside an Indian college saying they were forced to strip to check if they were menstruating.

The students were told to undress after a used sanitary napkin was found in a garden outside Sahjanand Girls Institute, where they are banned from the hostel when they are having their periods.

“There are no words to describe the humiliation that we faced,” said one of the students protesting outside the college in Bhuj, in the western state of Gujarat.

Deep-rooted social taboos remain in India around menstruating women. In some rural areas, women are made to sleep separately during periods. They are banned from entering some temples.

College authorities lined up 68 students in the washroom and ordered them to undress one by one, the students told reporters.

The college is run by the conservative Hindu sect Swaminarayan. The sect runs lavish temples around the world, including in London.

Its rules bar students from staying in the hostel during their periods.

Menstruating women students must stay in an isolated basement area and keep away from the kitchen and the place of worship.

They also have to sit at the back of the classroom during lectures.

The college said it had set up an inquiry and indicated action could be taken against the staff behind the checks.

College trustee Pravin Pindoria said: “The girls were informed about the hostel rules before they took admission.

“I have called a meeting of the administrative committee which will take action against the responsible persons.”

AFP

Polytechnic Students Issue Three Weeks Ultimatum To Sack Service Chiefs

A file photo of the service chiefs during a meeting with the President in Abuja.

 

 

The National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS) has decried the heightened insecurity in many parts of the country.

They, therefore, called for the sack of all the service chiefs and demanded that they should be replaced with new officers with new ideas.

The President of NAPS, Sunday Asuku, made the demand on behalf of the students while addressing a news conference at the end of the union’s meeting on Friday at the Kaduna Polytechnic in Kaduna State.

According to him, the students have threatened to embark on a peaceful protest if the Federal Government fails to sack the service chiefs after three weeks.

Asuku stressed that the government led by President Muhammad Buhari allocated a huge sum of money for security in the budget, in addition to the borrowings to acquire equipment.

Despite this, he decried that banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, and other related crimes were still on the increase.

The NAPS president noted the recent killing of the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State by insurgents in the North East.

He added that a student of the University of Maiduguri and several others also lost their lives to the activities of Boko Haram insurgents and bandits in the northern region of the country.

The students, according to Asuku, faulted the National Assembly for failing to recommend the immediate replacement of the service chiefs who they said have passed retirement age.

They threatened to embark on a peaceful protest after three weeks if the government fails to sack the service chiefs and protect the lives and property of the citizens.

Turkish Students, Lecturer On Trial For Pride March

People arrive at the Ankara’s courthouse on November 12, 2019, to attend the trial of eighteen students and an academic allegedly involved in an “illegal” banned LGBTI pride event at the campus university, in Ankara. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

 

Eighteen Turkish students and a lecturer went on trial on Tuesday for taking part in a banned LGBTI Pride event at an Ankara university.

The defendants face up to three years in prison if convicted of “unlawful assembly and protest” and “refusing to disperse” in a trial deemed “farcical” by rights groups.

One of the 18 students also faces up to two years for insulting a police officer with hand gestures.

Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history, but LGBTI individuals face regular harassment and abuse.

The pride event at the prestigious Middle East Technical University has taken place every May since 2011.

But university bosses banned this year’s event and police used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas to break it up.

Diplomats from several European embassies, including Denmark and Sweden, attended the packed hearing.

Lawyers and rights groups urged the court to immediately acquit the defendants.

“The ban of the Pride march lacks legal grounds, and these brave students and others who defied it had their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly violated,” Sara Hall of Amnesty International said in a statement.

Police did not allow supporters to read a statement outside the courthouse.

Defendant Melike Irem Balkan told the court there were “no legal grounds” for banning the event, noting that it has taken place “peacefully” in previous years.

The Ankara governor’s office banned all LGBTI events in November 2017, saying they could “provoke reactions” in society, but the ruling was overturned by a court in the capital in April.

LGBTI events have faced difficulties since the Islamic-rooted government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003.

Authorities in Istanbul have banned the city’s Pride march for the past five years, and used tear gas to break up this June’s event.

ILGA-Europe, an umbrella organisation for LGBTI groups, called for “a thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force” against the Pride marchers.

It places Turkey in the bottom three European countries, alongside Armenia and Azerbaijan, for equality laws and policies.

Students Flood Iraq Streets, Defying Government And Parents

Iraqi protestors wave Iraq’s national flags on motorbikes as they take part in anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on October 24, 2019.  AFP

 

Students and schoolchildren hit the streets of Baghdad and southern Iraq on Monday to join escalating calls for the government to quit, defying the education minister, legal threats and even their parents.

Swathes of the country have been engulfed by protests this month, with anger over unemployment and accusations of graft evolving into demands for a total political overhaul.

More than 200 people have been killed and 8,000 wounded, the majority protestors, since the movement erupted on October 1.

This week, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi found himself under pressure from a new source: Iraqi students.

“No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!” boycotting students shouted on Monday in Diwaniyah, 180 kilometres (120 miles) south of the capital.

Diwaniyah’s union of universities and schools announced a ten-day strike on Monday “until the regime falls”, with thousands of uniformed pupils and even professors flooding the streets.

They came out despite Higher Education Minister Qusay al-Suhail’s warning on Sunday that academic life should “stay away” from protests, after around a dozen schools and universities in Baghdad had joined sweeping rallies.

A spokesman for Abdel Mahdi even threatened that any further disruption to schools would be met with “severe punishment”.

But young protesters still gathered on Monday morning in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Hillah and Basra.

In Kut, most government offices were shut for lack of staff.

 ‘No nation, no class!’ 

In Baghdad, demonstrators gathered on campuses and in Tahrir Square.

“Qusay al-Suhail said not to come down into the streets. But we say: no nation, no class!” one student protester said.

“All we want is for the government to immediately submit its resignation. Either it resigns, or it gets ousted.”

About 60 percent of Iraq’s 40-million-strong population is under the age of 25.

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

Anger at inequality and accusations that government corruption was fuelling it sparked protests in Baghdad on October 1 that have since attracted growing numbers of young people.

On Monday, a group of three students drove up close to Tahrir Square, unloading kits and cans of Pepsi to help treat those affected by tear gas.

“It’s my first day at the protests. I told my mom I’m going to class, but I came here instead!” a girl with curly hair told AFP.

In the province of Diyala, which had so far been calm, two members of the provincial council resigned in solidarity with the rallies.

Even in the holy city of Najaf, dozens of young clerics-to-be took to the streets.

The protests are unprecedented in recent Iraqi history for their ire at the entire political class, with some even criticising traditionally revered religious leaders.

“We want the parliament to be dissolved, a temporary government, an amended constitution and early elections under United Nations supervision,” a demonstrator in Baghdad told AFP on Monday.

“That’s what the people want. We don’t want another solution.”

Parliamentary paralysis 

Abdel Mahdi has proposed a laundry list of reforms, including hiring drives, increased pensions and promises to root out corruption.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh has also held discussions with the UN on electoral reform and amendments to the 2005 constitution.

Parliament has tried to meet to discuss the protests but failed several times to reach a quorum.

Lawmakers were set to meet on Monday, but the sitting had not begun at the scheduled time of 1:00 pm (1000 GMT).

Four lawmakers resigned late on Sunday in solidarity with demonstrators, and the largest bloc has been holding an open-ended sit-in since Saturday night.

Saeroon, the bloc tied to firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, said it was dropping its support for Abdel Mahdi.

The move has left the premier more squeezed than ever, as Saeroon was one of the two main sponsors of his government.

The other was Fatah, the political arm of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, which has said it would continue to back the central government.

Several Hashed offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraq, prompting vows of “revenge” from its leaders.

Sadr responded Sunday, warning them: “Do not champion the corrupt. Do not repress the people.”

AFP