Fresh protests hit Iraqi Kurdistan

Sulaimaniyah (Iraq) (AFP) –


Hundreds of protesters faced off with security forces in Iraqi Kurdistan for a fourth day Thursday, demanding the resignation of politicians accused of graft.

Police deployed en masse in the town of Rania, where five demonstrators were shot dead and dozens wounded Tuesday amid public anger over an economic crisis partly triggered by an independence vote.

Since Monday, around 20 party offices and a town hall have been set ablaze across the autonomous region as protesters ramped up calls for the government to quit.

Police reinforcements, some with riot gear, deployed Wednesday night including in the centre of Iraqi Kurdistan's second city Sulaimaniyah, an AFP correspondent said.

The protests follow a September independence referendum that triggered an unprecedented crisis between the regional government and Baghdad, which slammed the poll as unconstitutional.

The federal government responded by seizing back swathes of disputed oil-rich territory, gutting the Kurdish region's coffers.

A conflict with Baghdad over federal budget payments has exacerbated the most serious economic crisis in the regional government's history.

Kurdish civil servants have been on reduced salaries for months, while the price of fuel has soared due to demand for winter heating.

Faced with popular fury, the Goran party and Kurdistan Islamic Group announced they were withdrawing their ministers from the regional government.