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Three people killed as protests turn violent again in Iraqi Kurdistan

Abadi says he would take action if any citizen were assaulted

By Reuters - Dec 19,2017 - Last updated at Dec 19,2017

Security forces block the road during the anti-government protests in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, on Tuesday (Anadolu Agency photo)

SULAIMANIYAH — Three people were killed and more than 80 wounded as Kurdish protesters, angered by years of austerity and unpaid public sector salaries, took to the streets on Tuesday in a second day of violent unrest amid tensions with Baghdad. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said later he would take action if any citizen were assaulted in Iraq's northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, state television reported.

About 1,250 protesters, mostly teachers, students, and civil servants, went out to protest in the city of Sulaimaniyah.

The Sulaimaniyah provincial council told Reuters three people were killed during clashes with Kurdish security forces in the town of Ranya. Regional health officials said six people were injured when the crowd was shot at with rubber bullets and sprayed with tear gas by security forces.

Protesters also attacked several offices of the main political parties in Sulaimaniyah province on Tuesday. 

Acknowledging that protesters had a "legitimate right" to demonstrate, Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) nonetheless said the targeting of government offices and party headquarters in Sulaimaniyah province was unacceptable.

"We are concerned with the uncivil actions and the violence used today in a number of cities and towns across Kurdistan," a KRG statement said.

It warned that relevant authorities could intervene to prevent further damage, after several people were left injured and properties damaged.

At a weekly news conference, Abadi called on the KRG to respect peaceful protests.

"We would not stand idly by if any citizen were attacked," state television quoted him as saying.

Local officials imposed a curfew starting at 7pm (1600 GMT) in several towns including Kifri, Takya and Chamchammal in Sulaimaniya province. In Chamchammal, the curfew will last throughout the day on Wednesday.

 

Roads closed

 

Tension has been high in the region since the central government in Baghdad imposed tough measures when the KRG unilaterally held an independence referendum on September 25 and Kurds voted overwhelmingly to secede.

The move, in defiance of Baghdad, also alarmed neighbouring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.

For the second day, protesters demanded that the KRG quit. 

They set fire to the offices of Kurdish political parties in the towns of Koya, Kifri and Ranya. Officials have closed roads around Sulaimaniya, a Reuters witness said.

Security sources said the road between Darbandikhan and Sulaimaniya, which connects the city to southern towns where there are major protests, has been closed.

On Monday, Kurdish political offices were also set ablaze in Sulaimaniya province, including a building belonging to the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and one belonging to its coalition partner in government, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

At least 3,000 Kurdish demonstrators had gathered in Sulaimaniyah for the protests on Monday against the KRG.

Stringent economic measures taken after the Baghdad central government slashed funds to the KRG in 2014 when it built its own oil pipeline to Turkey in pursuit of economic independence have led to sporadic protests over unpaid civil servant salaries in the last three years.

 

After the September referendum, the Iraqi government responded by seizing Kurdish-held Kirkuk and other territory disputed between the Kurds and the central government. It also banned direct flights to Kurdistan and demanded control over border crossings.

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