Shots fired during Iraq-Kuwait border protest: police

BAGHDAD Mon Mar 11, 2013 6:20pm EDT

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi police said they shot in the air to disperse stone-throwing crowds protesting against the demarcation of the border with Kuwait on Monday, leaving some on the Kuwaiti side believing they were being fired at, according to media reports.

The protest, and the confusion over the shooting, underlined localized tensions over the position of the frontier that have persisted more than two decades after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Both Iraq and Kuwait agreed to map out the exact position of their shared border after the first Gulf War - when Iraqi strongman Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in 1990 and was forced out by a U.S.-led coalition.

Iraq formally accepted a U.N.-demarcated border line in 1994. But many Iraqis in the area remain opposed to it, saying the line changed, robbing them of property and territory.

An Iraqi police source told Reuters that crowds gathered in the Iraqi border town of Um Qasr on Monday to protest against the position of the border.

Protesters threw stones at police officers and one activist was injured, the source added.

Kuwaiti news website Al-Aan said border officials were working on the Kuwaiti side of the boundary when "all of a sudden, gun shots went off from an unknown source on the Iraqi side".

Al-Aan said Kuwaiti security forces with the team briefly fired back, though that could not be verified independently.

Kuwaiti security pulled the border team out of the area "to calm the situation", reported Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai in a brief report on its website.

State news agency KUNA said Iraqis had "sabotaged" the border fence and "obstructed U.N.-supervised border signs maintenance," but did not mention any shooting.

Kuwait called on Iraqi security authorities to put an end to such actions, KUNA said, citing an anonymous foreign ministry official.

Leaders from both countries have been working to improve diplomatic ties in the past year despite ongoing public wariness.

The Middle East neighbors came to an agreement over Gulf War-era debts last year.

Kuwait's ruler and Iraq's prime minister have also visited each other's countries and officials have vowed to work together to maintain border markings.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Aseel Kami, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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