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Iraqi Kurdish President set to rule for two more years

Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani smiles during an interview with Reuters in Arbil, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Baghdad June 2, 2013. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - The president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani is set to stay in office for another two years, after lawmakers voted on Sunday to extend his tenure amid scuffles in parliament and an outcry from opposition parties.

Barzani’s presidency had been due to end this summer, when his second term of four years ends, but in recent months members of his party said legal ambiguities might allow him to remain longer or run again.

The region’s presidential law places a limit of two four-year terms on the position.

“We are against the extension. We think it is illegal,” said Mohammed Tofiq, head of public relations for opposition party Gorran (Change). “It proves to everyone that there is no democracy (in Kurdistan)”.

Once the most impoverished and repressed region in Iraq, Kurdistan now exists as a quasi-state within a state and has successfully insulated itself against the sectarian violence that plagues the rest of the country.

Stability and oil have drawn in foreign investment and the region is prospering, but a domestic opposition has built up a considerable following by railing against corruption, lack of transparency and the hegemony of two ruling parties.

Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) governs the northern enclave in partnership with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), whose leader Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was flown to Germany last December after suffering a stroke.

Between them, the KDP and PUK hold a majority of seats in the assembly, followed by Gorran, which was at the forefront of anti-government protests in 2011 during which at least 10 people died.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held later this year.

Reporting by Isabel Coles; editing by Andrew Roche