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Violent Protests Ease in Iraqi Kurdistan, Anger Remains


People are seen outside the Directorate of province building after it was set on fire by Kurdish protesters in Pera magroon district in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, Dec. 19, 2017.

Violent protests eased Wednesday in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, but concerns remained that the crisis could grow as opposition politicians quit Parliament and the government cracked down on media accused of fomenting the unrest.

The protests began mostly peacefully Monday over unpaid wages, poor services and government corruption but turned violent Tuesday as security forces tried to prevent people from gathering. Several people were killed as security forces opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. The United Nations called for calm and restraint.

Curfews were imposed in several areas. The Ministry of Culture said Wednesday that it had suspended NRT's Kurdish and Arabic services for a week to "stop chaos" and force media to commit to the "ethics of journalism."

Karwan Anwar, secretary of the journalist syndicate in Sulaimania and editor in chief of PUK Media told VOA's Kurdish Service that NRT violated journalistic principles by airing interviews with people who encouraged attacks on government offices and private property.

Kurdish protesters attend a rally against the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq Dec. 18, 2017.
Kurdish protesters attend a rally against the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq Dec. 18, 2017.

Westganews.net reported the abduction of Sarkawt Shamsulddin, NRT TV's Washington bureau chief in Sulaimania after he reported live on Facebook about the suspension and arrest of Shaswar Abdulwahid, owner of Nalia group of companies and Nalia Radio and Television (NRT), for allegedly promoting violent protests in the province.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement supporting "freedom of expression in Iraq as a key component of the country's democratic foundation."

"It is the duty of the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to protect the freedom of the press and to allow media to exercise their profession responsibly," the embassy statement said. "The United States believes that more voices, not fewer, are needed for democracy to flourish in Iraq and elsewhere in the region."

The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI, urged Kurdish security forces "to exercise maximum restraint in dealing with the demonstrators.''

The mayor of the town of Rania, Hiwa Qarani, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that at least two civilians were killed and 80 wounded the day before.

Kurdish protesters run away from tear gaz during a rally against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2017.
Kurdish protesters run away from tear gaz during a rally against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2017.

The situation in Iraq's Kurdistan has deteriorated since it voted overwhelmingly to pursue independence from Iraq and ran into punitive measures from the Iraqi government.

Although the demonstrators are directing their demands at the Iraqi government, they say they have lost faith in the Kurdistan government and are demanding that it resign.

"We are here to demand our legitimate rights and our livelihood," one protester said. "This government has not kept the promises it made. This Kurdish government lacks the basic requirements of governing."

Two parties removed their legislators from the provincial government Wednesday, and the parliamentary speaker resigned in response to the violence.

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