Security forces have killed at least five protesters who were demanding the resignation of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in the Iraqi Kurdish region.
Dozens were also wounded in the Tuesday demonstration, as anger that grew over a failed bid for independence in September took hold of the northern province.
The rallies started on Monday, when protesters attacked the headquarters of the region’s five political parties and a building of the security services in the Sulaymaniyah province.
In addition to anger over rising tensions with Baghdad following a failed independence referendum, protesters also rallied against government corruption, delayed salary payments and the authorities’ failure to provide basic services.
On Tuesday, protesters set fire to the offices of two political parties in the town of Raparin. Security forces injured at least 100 people, medical sources said.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the 51-year-old KRG politician, has called on the demonstrators to protest peacefully.
“These are challenging times for our region. Your frustrations are understandable, and I hear them,” he said, according to the Kurdish Rudaw media agency. “But violence is never acceptable. I call on all of you to conduct your protests peacefully.”
Barzani also called for unity, and voiced hope for a better future.
“We are stronger when we are united. I appreciate your resilience and patience in this difficult period. We have gotten through much worse in the past, and I still believe that, together, we will build a better future.”
The region has been tense since the KRG held an independence referendum on September 25, in which the Kurds voted overwhelmingly to split from the rest of Iraq.
The vote had little support from the regional and international arena, with Turkey and Iran – countries also home to Kurdish minorities – voicing their disconcert.
For its part, the KRG said in a statement on Tuesday that while it recognised the protesters’ “legitimate right” to demonstrate, the targeting and torching of government and party offices in Sulaymaniyah province were unacceptable.
“We are concerned with the uncivil actions and the violence used today in a number of cities and towns across Kurdistan,” the statement said.