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Thousands of protesters in and around Baghdad and southern Iraq have angrily railed against lawmakers' lavish benefits, despite heavy security measures that kept many away, particularly in the capital.Demonstrators criticised lawmakers' retirement benefits in particular, which amount to thousands of dollars a month and stand in marked contrast to the daily struggle for many Iraqis who lack even dependable electricity and sewerage services."A huge amount of money goes to these people," said Aamer Qasim, a pharmacist who attended a demonstration in the centre of Baghdad with several colleagues."The money should be spent on health, on education, on electricity, on infrastructure."Protests on Saturday were also held in several cities in south Iraq, including the port city of Basra as well as Nasiriyah, Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Hilla, according to AFP journalists.Demonstrations were officially barred, however, in the capital on security grounds, and protesters were surrounded by a heavy security presence where they were allowed to gather, at several squares in central Baghdad."There are those looking for civilians to worsen the bloodshed and hurt the security and political situation in the country," the interior ministry said in a statement on Tuesday barring the protests.Iraq has seen a marked rise in the level of violence this year. More than 600 people have already been killed so far this month, according to an AFP tally.