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Protests Spread in Iran’s Kurdish Areas over Border Shutdown

Shops remain closed in Baneh, Iran, April 18, 2018, as Iranian Kurds protest the government's blockage of border crossings used for trade.

Kurds in northwestern Iran have gone on strike for a fifth day to protest Tehran’s extended closure of border crossings that they rely upon for vital trade with northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Residents of the predominantly ethnic Kurdish region of Iran sent VOA Persian photos and videos of peaceful strikes and demonstrations in several locations Thursday. Kurdish news sites said the protests have spread to at least seven towns since they began Sunday. Those towns include Baneh, Javanrud, Mahabad, Marivan, Piranshahr, Saqqez and Sardasht. VOA Persian has received additional images of the shuttered stores and street rallies in these areas in recent days.

WATCH: Iranian Kurds Protest Border Closure With Closed Shops

Iranian Kurds Protest Border Closure With Closed Shops
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The Iranian government has been blocking paths used by Iranian Kurdish porters to carry goods to and from Iraqi Kurdistan since December. Much of the local economy in Iran’s Kurdish areas relies on such trade. Residents say the border closures have deprived them of imported products to sell in stores, which have been suffering from a lack of customers thanks to widespread poverty in the region.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Baneh’s deputy governor Nejad Shahidi on April 15 as saying that Iran has been blockading the crossings at the request of Iraq to “bring order to border trade and preserve security in border areas.”

Shahidi also accused foreign agents of inciting local shopkeepers to go on strike and said Iranian security forces were on alert to control protesters in the streets.

Iranian Kurds who have spoken to VOA Persian dismiss official assertions that the border blockade is an Iraqi initiative, saying they believe Tehran is responsible because of Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.

Saeed Jalili, a national security adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, met with residents of Baneh at a mosque Wednesday, appealing to them to go back to work.

There have been no reports of violence in the five-day protest movement. But several Iranian Kurds told VOA Persian that Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel had detained them briefly and ordered them to make pledges not to continue the strikes. Their accounts of detention could not be verified.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.