Ninety wounded in northern Iraq protests

ARBIL, Iraq Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:53pm EDT

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ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - At least 90 people were wounded in a second straight day of clashes between protesters and security forces in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya on Monday, police and medical sources said.

Popular discontent in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region has been directed at a regional government dominated for decades by two political parties whose former guerrilla armies have been converted into security forces.

Security forces fired shots and used tear gas to try to disperse protesters, wounding 29, while 61 policemen were injured by stones and other objects hurled at them, police and health officials said.

At least 35 people were hurt a day earlier in Sulaimaniya, the region's second largest city and the hub of protests continuing since February.

In the regional capital Arbil, dozens of students tried to rally near a university but were attacked by security forces, a Kurdish lawmaker told Reuters.

"I saw many protesters lying on the ground and being beaten by security forces," Mohammed Kiyani, a Kurdish politician, told Reuters. "When I tried to stop the beating of protesters lying on the ground, police surrounded me. I was beaten and forced into a police vehicle."

Kiyani said he was released after a policeman recognized him as a member of parliament.

Rekawt Hama Rasheed, general director of the health office in Sulaimaniya, said nine protesters were shot.

"The number of security forces treated in the hospital is 61. They were wounded because of the rock throwing," Rasheed said. "There are nine protesters wounded by gunshots, one of them in critical condition, in addition to 20 other protesters wounded by tear gas and batons."

Most of the wounded refused to be admitted to hospital for fear of being arrested, eyewitnesses and hospital sources said.

Kurdistan's president, Masoud Barzani, announced plans last month to enact reforms but demonstrators have said they fall short of their demands.

Iraq has been hit in recent weeks by nationwide protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world. Demonstrators have demanded better government services and an end to corruption but for the most part have not sought the removal of the national government installed in December after elections in March 2010.

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

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