BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s president has given rival political blocs a deadline to select a prime minister nearly two months after the outgoing premier resigned under pressure from mass demonstrations, his office said in a statement Wednesday.

Violence continued for a second week in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular protests, with security forces using pellet guns to disperse protesters. It was the first time the weapon has been used in the four-month movement in which police have killed demonstrators with live rounds and tear gas canisters.

President Barham Saleh asked parliamentary blocs to select a candidate to replace outgoing premier Adel Abdul-Mahdi by Feb. 1. If they don’t, he said, he will select a candidate himself.

“I call on you, as parliamentary blocs concerned with the nomination of the prime minister to resume constructive and serious political dialogue in order to agree on a new candidate,” his statement said.

If political blocs are not able to meet the deadline, the statement said, “I see an obligation to exercise my constitutional powers by assigning those whom I find most acceptable to parliament and the people.”

Abdul-Mahdi resigned in December after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful religious figure, withdrew support for his government amid mass demonstrations. His candidacy was based on a provisional alliance between rival factions — Saeroon, lead by influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, headed by Hadi al-Ameri. Neither bloc has been able to select a consensus candidate to replace the outgoing premier.


Several protesters were wounded amid ongoing clashes in Baghdad’s central Khilani Square where security forces also used pellet rifles to repel demonstrators, an Associated Press photographer witnessed.

Blood streamed as paramedics were on site to remove pellets from protesters’ foreheads. Most had taken direct shots to the head.

At least 500 protesters have died under fire from security forces who have used live bullets and tear gas since the mass movement began on Oct. 1. Thousands had taken to the streets to decry corruption, endemic unemployment and poor services.