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Kurds rally in Iraq against Turkish incursion vote

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Thousands of Kurds, many of them students, marched on the U.N. offices in the Kurdish capital Arbil on Thursday to protest the Turkish parliament’s authorization of military incursions into northern Iraq.

Carrying banners with slogans in English, Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic, the marchers called for peaceful dialogue with their northern neighbor to end the crisis and vowed to resist any military invasion of their Kurdistan region.

Turkey’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to give the military the go-ahead to hunt down PKK rebels hiding out in Kurdistan’s mountains who are blamed for a rising number of attacks on Turkish troops.

Kurdistan’s government said on Thursday it was prepared to hold talks with its “Turkish friends” on the PKK issue and stressed Turkish trade and investment were fundamental to the growth of the semi-autonomous region’s economy.

“We ask our Turkish neighbor to halt any military operations in Iraq. We do not want any confrontation with Turkey. We will not allow our land to be used as a base to launch attacks against our neighbor,” it said in a statement.

Several thousand protesters, including many schoolgirls in black and white tunics, streamed along the main road to the United Nations offices in An Kawah on the outskirts of Arbil.

They carried red, white and green Kurdish flags and banners reading: “We will not be silent. We will resist the Turkish” and “We are in the world of dialogue, not war”.

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“We, the people of Kurdistan, denounce ... the blatant Turkish interference in the affairs of our dear region,” said marcher Dara Hussein.

In the Kurdish province of Dahuk, about 1,500 protesters, most of them high-school students, also rallied against the Turkish parliament vote.

“We want Turkey to realize that we want to live in peace, but we also do not want anyone to interfere in our affairs,” said one 18-year-old student.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has played down expectations of any imminent attack, and the Pentagon says it does not think Ankara has the appetite for a full-scale incursion.

With winter approaching and the inaccessible mountainous terrain a major obstacle, analysts say Turkey’s principle aim is to spur the U.S. and Iraqi authorities into action.

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