ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Protesters torched an office of the main political party in Iraq’s Kurdish north on Friday after at least one demonstrator was killed in the worst unrest the region has seen for several years.
Five other people were wounded in the city of Qaladize following a week of strikes and demonstrations in Kurdistan that threaten to destabilize the autonomous region while it is at war with Islamic State militants.
In other towns and cities across the region, political parties tightened security around their offices to avert attacks from rivals.
The protests grew out of public anger at an economic crisis that has left many Kurds struggling to get by, but have become wound up in a power struggle between the region’s political parties.
Friday’s demonstration turned violent when protesters changed their planned course and headed towards the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Qaladize throwing stones, officials said.
In the ensuing confrontation, a young man was shot dead.
“The firing came from the KDP,” said Hawsar Wshyar Mohammed Amin, a member of the Sulaimaniyah provincial council from former opposition party Gorran.
But Hamid Qaladizei, a member of the KDP branch in the city, denied the bullets had been fired from there, and said it was not to blame for the man’s death.
“We acted very responsibly,” Qaladizei said. “There are people behind these protesters who are provoking them. The number of police is insufficient to protect us and control the situation.”
The KDP, Gorran and three of the region’s other parties have been wrangling over the terms of an extension for Massoud Barzani’s presidency since it expired on Aug. 20.
The stalemate has polarized Kurdish politics and compounded an economic crisis that began in early 2014 when Baghdad slashed funds to the region. A drop in oil prices that has pushed the region to the verge of bankruptcy.
In a statement late on Friday, Barzani called for calm and said those responsible for the disturbances in Qaladize would be held accountable.
The last serious bout of unrest in the region was in 2011, when Kurds protested against corruption and nepotism, inspired by popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Heavens