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Iraqi Kurdish ministers resign amid violent protests

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Two political parties have withdrawn from Iraq's Kurdish regional government amid street protests over delayed salaries, poor services and rampant corruption, a Kurdish lawmaker said Thursday.

Thousands of Kurds have taken to the streets in recent days in Sulaimaniyah, a stronghold of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, torching tires and attacking the offices of political parties. Security forces have used tear gas and fired live rounds to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators, and have imposed curfews in some areas.

At least two people were killed and 80 wounded in clashes in the nearby town of Rania, according to Mayor Hiwa Qarani. Iraqi state TV said fresh demonstrations erupted in Rania on Thursday.

The Kurdish government "lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens, who demand its resignation," Sarwa Abdul-Wahid, who leads the Change Party bloc in the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, told The Associated Press from Sulaimaniyah.

Abdul-Wahid said three ministers from the Change Party and two from the Islamic Group Party have left the 21-minister Cabinet. The Change Party-affiliated regional parliament speaker and the head of the Board of Investment will also resign, she added.

Abdul-Wahid accused the security forces affiliated with the PUK, one of the two largest Kurdish parties, of attacking the protesters and arresting "hundreds" of them.

"Sulaimaniyah has become a military camp for the Patriotic Union where they have deployed all their forces in the cities and towns to suppress the demonstrations," she said. "For every protester there are two security members."

Both the PUK and its main rival, the Kurdish Democratic Party, have faced mounting anger in the wake of September's independence referendum, which set off a major crisis with the central government in Baghdad. The vote for independence was approved by more than 90 percent of Kurds but rejected by Baghdad and Iraq's neighbors.

In October, federal forces seized disputed territory from Kurdish fighters, including the city of Kirkuk and surrounding oil fields. Baghdad has also demanded that border crossings and the region's two international airports be handed over to federal authorities, and has ordered international airlines to halt services.

Even before the referendum, the Kurdish region was suffering from a financial crisis exacerbated by low oil prices. Civil servants have not been paid since August, pensioners have not been paid since February, and the government still owes both groups for unpaid months in previous years.


Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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