At least three anti-government protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces in southern Iraq, officials said Tuesday, as authorities tried to reopen the country's main port, which had been blocked by demonstrators for three days.

Security and medical officials said a protester was killed and eight more were wounded in Umm Qasr, a key oil terminal on the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, a semi-official agency, said two people were killed and 23 wounded in clashes in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said security forces in Umm Qasr were firing live ammunition and tear gas, and that protesters have seized an armored vehicle.

Iraq has seen massive anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite south since Oct. 25.

Umm Qasr, on the Arabian Gulf, is Iraq's main port used for oil exports and the import of goods.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has expressed support for the protesters' demands and condemned violence on all sides while resisting calls to step down. He has called on the protesters to reopen roads so that life can return to normal, saying the disruptions caused by the protests are costing the country billions of dollars.

He met with senior judicial and security officials at the Federal Police Headquarters late Monday to discuss ways to restore stability while preserving the right to protest and protecting private property, according to a government statement.