Security forces have reopened the entrance to Iraq's main Gulf port after forcibly dispersing protesters who had been blocking it, as the country's top cleric warned nothing but speedy electoral reforms would resolve unrest.
Employees were able to enter the Umm Qasr commodities port near Basra on Friday for the first time since it was blocked on Monday, port sources told Reuters, but normal operations had not yet resumed.
At least 326 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
Iraq's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on Friday for politicians to hurry up in reforming electoral laws because the changes would be the only way to resolve weeks of deadly unrest.
He also repeated his view that the protesters had legitimate demands and should not be met with violence.
Unsatisfied by government reform promises they see as meagre, many protesters have turned to civil disobedience tactics in recent weeks.
They had previously blocked Umm Qasr from October 29-November 9, apart from a brief resumption of operations for three days.
It receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
The port opening came as officials confirmed the death toll had risen to 10 after overnight clashes between protesters and security forces in Baghdad.
Security and medical officials said one protester died of his injuries Friday morning.
He was wounded in bloody street clashes between Ahrar and Sinak bridges the previous night.
The officials say over 100 people have been wounded.