Protesters and police clash in northern Iraq, 35 wounded

ARBIL, Iraq Sun Apr 17, 2011 3:10pm EDT

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ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 35 people were wounded, including seven policemen, in clashes between protesters and security forces in Iraq's northern city of Sulaimaniya Sunday, police and hospital sources said.

The semi-autonomous Kurdish region, dominated for decades by two political parties, has seen continuous protests in recent months against corruption and a lack of freedom, inspired by rallies in other Arab countries.

The clashes erupted when police trying to drive protesters out of a main square opened fire and used batons and tear gas, wounding around 28 protesters, police and witnesses said.

Rekawt Hama Rasheed, general director of the health office in Sulaimaniya, the region's second-largest city, said hospitals received 35 wounded, including seven protesters suffering from bullet wounds and others who were hurt by batons or tear gas.

Seven policemen suffered exposure to tear gas, Rasheed said.

Two journalists were wounded, including a photographer who was shot while covering the clashes, said Rahman Gharib, an editor at the Kurdish weekly newspaper Hawalati.

"Journalist Chunour Mohammed was shot while trying to take a photo of a wounded protester. She got a bullet in her hand," Gharib said. "We denounce this act by the authorities."

Kurdistan's president, Masoud Barzani, announced plans last month to shake up the regional government and enact reforms, but demonstrators have said these fall short of their demands.

Nasik Qadir, a spokeswoman for the demonstrators, said security forces shot at protesters. A security official who asked not to be identified said shots were fired into the air to disperse protesters who were throwing stones.

"Authorities are trying from time to time to attack peaceful protesters by using force because it's the only language the authorities recognize, rather than dialogue," Qadir said.

Rights group Amnesty International said last week that security forces had used excessive force against peaceful protesters in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan's regional government has near autonomy and is funded by a share of the country's oil revenue. The two parties that share power each command former guerrilla militias that have been given the status of regional security forces.

(Reporting by Shamal Aqrawi and Namo Abdulla in Arbil; writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

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