Posts Tagged ‘referendum on independence’

Catalan leaders defy king over independence — Expected “to proclaim the independence of Catalonia.”

October 4, 2017


© AFP / by Marianne Barriaux with Roland Lloyd Parry in Madrid | Several hundred thousand protesters took to the streets during general strike in Catalonia to condemn police violence at a banned weekend referendum on independence

BARCELONA (AFP) – Tension mounted in Spain on Wednesday after Catalonia’s leader vowed that the region would declare independence within days, defying a stern warning from the country’s king that national stability was in peril.

The courts meanwhile placed Catalan police officials and pro-independence civil leaders under investigation for alleged “sedition” as Spain sank deeper into its worst political crisis in decades.

King Felipe VI branded the independence drive illegal and undemocratic, throwing his weight behind the national government.

But Catalan leaders dug in, buoyed by anger at a violent police crackdown against voters during Sunday’s referendum on independence which had been banned by Madrid and the courts.

The Catalan government will “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next” to declare independence, its leader Carles Puigdemont told the BBC in an interview.

– Independence declaration –

The Catalan government’s spokesman Jordi Turull added Wednesday: “We have nearly finished counting the votes.”

The result will be submitted to the regional parliament which will have two days “to proclaim the independence of Catalonia,” he said in a television interview.

The move would intensify the standoff with the central government, which along with the national courts has branded the referendum illegal.

The national government has the power to suspend the semi-autonomous status that Catalonia currently enjoys under Spain’s system of regional government.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has yet to respond publicly to Sunday’s vote, but the king’s intervention could clear the way for him to act.

“It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order,” Felipe said.

– ‘Threat to stability’ –

The king, 49, abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia, accusing its leaders of acting outside the law.

“With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain,” he said.

Felipe’s dramatic intervention was a gauge of tension in Spain, which he said is “going through a very serious moment for our democratic life.”

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury on Tuesday over violence by Spanish riot police against voters taking part in the referendum on Sunday.

A general strike in the region shut down tourist sites, Barcelona football Club and the city’s major port.

– ‘Fuel to the fire’ –

Felipe repeated his earlier calls for harmony between Spaniards.

But after Sunday’s violence it risked further fanning resentment in Catalonia.

“The king’s speech was irresponsible,” said Turull.

“Instead of calming things, what it did was throw fuel on the fire.”

People watching in a bar in Barcelona whistled and booed after the king’s speech.

“He did not say a word about the people who were injured,” said Domingo Gutierrez, a 61-year-old trucker.

“I have never been pro-independence, my parents are from Andalucia. But now I am more for independence than anyone, thanks to people like that.”

– Catalan ‘sedition’ probe –

Adding to tensions, a judge on Wednesday placed Catalonia’s regional police chief Josep Luis Trapero and three other suspects under investigation for an alleged “crime of sedition.”

The force has been accused of failing to rein in pro-independence protesters during disturbances in Barcelona last month.

The judge leading the judicial investigation, Carmen Lamela, also summoned the leaders of two prominent Catalan pro-independence civil groups: Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

The fourth suspect is another senior police official.

– Catalans split –

A rich industrial region of 7.5 million people, Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economy.

It has its own language and cultural traditions.

Its claims for independence date back centuries but have surged during recent years of economic crisis.

Puigdemont’s regional government claimed that 2.26 million people took part in the poll, or just over 42 percent of the electorate.

The vote was held without regular electoral lists or observers.

The regional government said 90 percent of those who voted backed independence, but polls indicate Catalans are split.

Puigdemont has called for international mediation in the crisis. The European Union’s executive commission has voiced concern.

The European Parliament was scheduled to debate the Catalonia crisis later on Wednesday.

by Marianne Barriaux with Roland Lloyd Parry in Madrid

Catalan police chief probed for alleged ‘sedition’

October 4, 2017


© AFP/File | A Spanish judge placed Catalonia’s regional police chief Josep Luis Trapero under judicial investigation for alleged “sedition” over his handling of unrest last month sparked by the region’s contested independence drive

MADRID (AFP) – A Spanish judge placed Catalonia’s regional police chief under investigation for alleged sedition, a court spokesman said Wednesday, after the force was accused of failing to rein in pro-independence protesters.The National Court in Madrid summoned Josep Luis Trapero and three other suspects to a hearing on Friday, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The accusations refer to unrest in Barcelona on September 20 and 21 after national security forces raided regional government offices in a crackdown against the independence drive.

That police action was met with furious protests and the Catalan regional police were accused of failing to intervene.

Tensions between Catalonia and the national government have plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

The spokesman said the four suspects were accused of “a crime of sedition… in relation to the gatherings and demonstrations carried out to forcibly prevent the authorities and their officers from carrying out their duties.”

The crime of sedition is punishable by up to 15 years in prison if committed by a member of the authorities, under Spain’s penal code.

The judge leading the judicial investigation, Carmen Lamela, also summoned the leaders of two prominent Catalan pro-independence civil groups: Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

Those two groups were involved in the September demonstrations. Protesters damaged Civil Guard police vehicles and stopped officers from leaving the building they were searching.

The fourth suspect placed under investigation was another senior Catalan police official, Teresa Laplana.

The region’s leaders defied Madrid by holding a banned referendum on independence on Sunday.

National security forces beat unarmed voters as officers shut down some polling stations.

‘Is this what Spain is about?’ Catalans look to EU after referendum crackdown

October 2, 2017


© Jose Jordan, AFP | Supporters of Catalan independence gather on Barcelona’s main square as they wait for the results of the October 1 referendum on independence from Spain.

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2017-10-02

Catalan separatists are hoping Sunday’s violent police crackdown on those trying to vote in an independence referendum will persuade EU leaders to intervene in their intensifying dispute with the government in Madrid.

An elderly woman forcibly dragged from a polling booth, another with blood trickling down her face and police attacking firefighters as they tried to protect the crowds of Catalan voters – all of this in a stable European democracy.

The shocking scenes of violence that marred Catalonia’s independence vote on Sunday made headlines around the world, threatening to turn the already divisive vote into a public relations debacle for Spain’s central government.

The actions of the authorities contrasted sharply with the calm determination and composure shown by those who turned out to take part in a vote that Spain’s constitutional court had declared illegal.

Catalan officials said more than 90 percent of voters had said ‘Yes’ to independence from Spain, although turnout was estimated at just over 42 percent, with 2.26 million voters having defied Madrid’s injunction not to take part in the referendum.

“We showed we are a united and peaceful people,” said Artur, 30, who spent much of the day guarding a polling station at the Miguel de Cervantes school in Barcelona to prevent police from seizing the ballot boxes.

‘Strategy of repression’

But while Catalan separatists have largely succeeded in holding a vote the Spanish government had promised to thwart, few were in the mood to claim victory after Sunday’s chaotic scenes.

“At what price?” asked Cristina, 48, after casting her ballot in the Catalan regional capital. “It has been a day of suffering, with many injured people still in hospital, unable to vote.”

Catalan officials said 844 people had sought medical care while the Spanish interior ministry said 33 police officers had also been injured.

Like many others in Barcelona, Cristina was baffled by the Spanish government’s “strategy of repression”.

“Is this what Spain is about?” she fumed. “This isn’t democracy! […] If the [Spanish] government said this referendum doesn’t count, then why did it use such force?”

The people being hit by police did not come out to protest or riot, they are trying to enter a polling location.

Sharing Cristina’s outrage was her sister Myriam, who likened the riot police’s “Robocop” methods to those of the Franco era.

“They used rubber bullets, even though they are banned here in Catalonia,” she said.

Myriam noted the contrast with the conduct of the Catalan regional police force, known as the Mossos, who mostly refused to enforce Madrid’s orders and sometimes sided with the crowd.

Pressure on Rajoy

While Madrid praised the riot police for “acting with professionalism and responding proportionately”, opposition figures were scathing in their criticism of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who adopted a neutral tone in the run-up to the vote, said Rajoy had “crossed all the red lines with the police actions against normal people, old people, families who were defending their fundamental rights”.

She called Rajoy a “coward” and urged him to resign.

Miguel Urban, a member of the European Parliament and spokesman for the left-wing Podemos movement, said the government had been irresponsible in claiming to “defend democracy with batons”.

“We need to unite to drive Rajoy out of power,” he added.

Meanwhile, the head of Catalonia’s regional government, Carles Puigdemont, said Sunday’s events showed Catalans had “won the right to become an independent state”. He called on Europe to step in to make sure fundamental rights were fully respected.

A spokesman for his administration, Jordi Turull, said the “savage” actions of the Spanish police had turned Spain into “the shame of Europe”.

Europe’s muted response

Catalan separatists are now hoping the fallout from the violent vote will spur European governments into action.

So far, EU officials and most member states have been reluctant to intercede in the escalating dispute between Spain’s central government and its richest region, viewing it as an internal Spanish matter.

But Sunday’s violence, witnessed by European observers at polling stations in Catalonia, has put pressure on Spain’s European partners to speak out.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was among the few national leaders to urge restraint, writing on Twitter that, “Violence can never be the answer!”

Former Belgian premier and senior European lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt said that while he did “not want to interfere” in Spain’s domestic affairs, “I absolutely condemn what happened today in Catalonia.”

In other countries, governments faced calls from opposition leaders to denounce the police brutality, which Germany’s Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz described as a “worrying” escalation.

In Britain, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed the “shocking” violence used against Catalan citizens while Scotland’s pro-independence leader, Nicola Sturgeon, called on Spain to “change course before someone is seriously hurt”.

But by Sunday evening Rajoy had given no indication that he planned to soften his stance, doubling down by denying that the vote had even taken place.

“Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia,” he said, blaming the violence on “those who violated the law”.

In a warning to his opponents in Barcelona, he noted that he still enjoyed “the unconditional support of all European leaders.”


See also The Telegraph:

Catalonian referendum violence plunges EU into crisis as ’90pc of voters back independence’

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Spanish riot police in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph by Emilio Morenatti for AP

“Yes” wins Catalonia independence vote marred by violence — 844 civilians treated in hospitals for injuries, plus 33 police officers

October 2, 2017

The Associated Press

Image may contain: 2 people

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Catalonia’s regional government declared a landslide win for the “yes” side in a disputed referendum on independence from Spain that degenerated into mayhem Sunday, with more than 800 people injured as riot police attacked peaceful protesters and unarmed civilians trying to cast their ballots.

Catalonia has “won the right to become an independent state,” Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said after the polls closed, adding that he would keep his pledge to declare independence unilaterally if the “yes” side wins.

“Today the Spanish state wrote another shameful page in its history with Catalonia,” Puigdemont added, saying he would appeal to the European Union to look into alleged human rights violations during the vote.

Catalan regional government spokesman Jordi Turull told reporters early Monday that 90 percent of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted chose the “yes” side in favor of independence. He said nearly 8 percent of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.

The region has 5.3 million registered voters, and Turull said the number of ballots didn’t include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids that aimed to stop the vote.

Spanish riot police attacked peaceful protesters in Catalonia on Sunday to try to disrupt a banned independence vote, injuring more than 700 people as Spain’s constitutional crisis deepened. (Oct. 1)

No one knows what will happen if Catalan officials follow through on their pledge to use the vote as a basis for declaring independence, a provocation that would possible remove from Spain one of its most prosperous regions, including the coastal city of Barcelona, the regional capital.

Hundreds of police armed with truncheons and rubber bullets were sent in from other regions to confiscate ballots and stop the voting, and amateur video showed some officers dragging people out of polling stations by the hair, throwing some down stairs, kicking them and pushing them to the ground. Anguished, frightened screams could be heard.

Police were acting on a judge’s orders to stop the referendum, which the Spanish government had declared illegal and unconstitutional — and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said going forward with the vote only served to sow divisions.

In a televised address after the majority of polls closed Sunday, he thanked the Spanish police, saying they had acted with “firmness and serenity” — comments sure to anger Catalans.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said the violence, while “unfortunate” and “unpleasant” was “proportionate.”

“If people insist in disregarding the law and doing something that has been consistently declared illegal and unconstitutional, law enforcement officers need to uphold the law,” Dastis told The Associated Press in an interview.

Catalans favoring a break with Spain have long wanted more than the limited autonomy they now have, arguing that they contribute far more than they receive from the central government, which controls key areas including taxes and infrastructure. The police aggression on Sunday was likely to only fuel the passion for independence, and the main separatist group urged the regional government to declare independence after the violent crackdown.

By day’s end, Catalan health services said 844 civilians had been treated in hospitals for injuries, including two in serious condition and another person who was being treated for an eye injury that fit the profile of having been hit by a rubber bullet. Thirty-three police officers were also injured.

At the Pau Claris School in Barcelona, amateur footage filmed by one voter showed police roughing up unarmed people standing in their way. Amateur video from other locations showed similar tactics, with people seen being hit, kicked and thrown around by police, including elderly people with their dogs, young girls and regular citizens of all stripes. Many tried to shield themselves from being smacked on the head.

There were also some signs of provocation by activists. In footage released by the Spanish Interior Ministry, some protesters were seen throwing objects and metal barriers at riot police.

Elisa Arouca, who was waiting to vote outside the Estel school in central Barcelona, reacted with anger when national police agents yanked her and other prospective voters out of the way, then smashed open the door and confiscated the ballot boxes.

She had been planning to vote in favor of keeping Catalonia part of Spain, but decided instead to join the march for independence. She moved to another polling station to try and cast her vote in favor of breaking away.

“I was always against independence, but what the Spanish state is doing is making me change my mind,” she said. “The national police and civil guard are treating us like criminals.”

There was no organized campaign for the “no” side in the vote, which most national political parties boycotted because it lacked legal guarantees and was suspended by the courts. Polls in recent years have shown roughly half of the 7.5 million residents of the region want to remain a part of Spain.

Mari Martinez, a 43-year-old waitress, said she didn’t vote. “I don’t lean toward independence, because we are part of Spain,” she said. “Today’s violence is not good for anybody. We never should have gotten to this point. Politicians haven’t done their job, and they should have reached an agreement a long time ago.”

A member of the Israeli parliament, sent to observe the vote, said she was shocked by the use of rubber bullets by Spanish police against crowds of unarmed voters.

“We did expect a normal democratic process,” said Ksenia Svetlova, part of a delegation of 33 observers invited by Catalan officials. “We knew that a lot of police were here but still, you know, there should be a respect for the will of the people to vote regardless of what you think of the referendum.”

Tensions were running so high that Barcelona played its soccer game against Las Palmas without fans after the team announced the match would be played behind closed doors shortly before kickoff, with thousands of soccer fans already outside the stadium. Barcelona wanted to postpone the game but said the Spanish league refused the request.

Manuel Condeminas, a 48-year-old IT manager who tried to block police from driving away with ballot boxes on Sunday, said police had kicked him and others before using their batons and firing the rubber bullets.

Elsewhere, civil guard officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used a hammer to break the glass of the front door and a lock cutter to break into the Sant Julia de Ramis sports center near the city of Girona that was being used as a polling station. A woman injured outside the building was wheeled away on a stretcher by paramedics.

Clashes broke out less than an hour after polls opened, and not long before Puigdemont, the Catalan regional president, was expected to turn up to vote at the sports center. Polling station workers reacted peacefully and broke out into songs and chants challenging the officers’ presence. Puigdemont was forced to vote in Cornella de Terri, near the northern city of Girona, his spokesman said.


Associated Press writer Alex Oller contributed to this report from Barcelona, and Gregory Katz and Frank Griffiths contributed from London.


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Spanish riot police in Barcelona on Sunday. Photograph by Emilio Morenatti for AP

Israel denies Turkish claim of involvement in Kurd vote

October 1, 2017


© AFP | Iraqi Kurds carry the Kurdish and Israeli flags in the northern city of Kirkuk on September 25, 2017 following a referendum on independence

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday denied Turkish claims of covert involvement in Iraqi Kurdistan’s recent independence vote, reiterating however his “sympathy” for the Kurdish people.

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel’s intelligence agency played a role in the September 25 referendum, citing as proof the waving of Israeli flags during celebrations for the overwhelming “yes” victory.

“This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

Speaking at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu noted Turkey’s support for the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza, before denying Erdogan’s charge.

“I can understand why those who support Hamas want to see the Mossad wherever things don’t work out for them,” Netanyahu said in remarks relayed by his office.

“But Israel had no part in the Kurdish referendum, aside from the deep, natural and years-long sympathy of the Jewish people to the Kurdish people and its aspirations,” he said.

Israel has been the only country to openly support Kurdish independence, with Netanyahu backing “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own.”

Netanyahu did not specify how and where such a state should come into being.

Turkey fiercely opposed the referendum and has threatened sanctions against the region, reflecting its worries about its own sizeable Kurdish minority.

Iranian Kurds Rally in Support of Iraqi Kurdish Referendum

September 26, 2017

IRBIL, Iraq — Thousands of Iranian Kurds have poured into the streets in Iran in support of the Iraqi Kurds’ voting in a landmark referendum for independence from Baghdad.

Footage shared online by Iranian Kurds showed demonstrators waving lit mobile phones in the air and chanting their support into the night on Monday.

The demonstrations took place in towns of Baneh, Saghez and Sanandaj.

Iranian state television on Tuesday acknowledged the demonstrations, a rarity in the Islamic Republic.

Iran, Turkey and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad have all opposed the referendum. Iran has been holding military exercises near the Iraqi border in a show of its displeasure.

The Iraqi Kurdish push for independence comes as Kurdish forces captured extensive territory in fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.



High-turnout for Kurdish independence vote raises regional fears

September 26, 2017

AFP and Reuters

© Safin Hamed, AFP | Iraqi Kurds wave the Kurdish flag as they celebrate in the streets of the northern city of Erbil on September 25, 2017, following a referendum on independence.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-09-26

Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq’s central government.

Neighbouring Turkey even threatened a military response.

To Baghdad, the vote threatens a redrawing of Iraq‘s borders, taking a sizeable part of the country’s oil wealth with it. For Turkey and Iran, leaders feared the move would embolden their own Kurdish populations.

Monday’s turnout was high among the 5.2 million eligible voters with 78 percent, the Kurdish Rudaw TV station said. The electoral commission had advanced the figure of 76 percent with polling stations yet to close on Monday.

The vote – likely to be a resounding “yes” when official results are revealed later this week – is not binding and will not immediately bring independence to the autonomous region. Nevertheless, it has raised tensions and fears of instability in Iraq and beyond.

Just hours after polls closed Monday night across the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the Defense Ministry announced the launch of “large-scale” joint military exercises with Turkey.

Earlier in the day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened the Kurdish region with military intervention. Iran – which also opposed the vote – held military exercises along their border Sunday.


The Iraqi Kurdish push for independence has been made even more combustible because Kurdish forces captured extensive territory in fighting against the Islamic State group in the past year. Those areas run from northwestern Iraq to the Iranian border on the east – including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Baghdad claims those territories, but the Kurds say they are part of their zone and some residents there are participating in the referendum.

An escalation in rhetoric within Iraq set the stage for increased tensions as Iraqi Kurds lined up to vote.

The Kurdish region’s president, Massoud Barzani, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi both threatened to use force ahead of Monday’s vote.

Barzani softened his tone before he voted. He told a news conference Sunday that he believed the vote would be peaceful but acknowledged the path to independence would be “risky”.

“We are ready to pay any price for our independence,” he said.

Al-Abadi had said on the eve of the referendum that the vote “threatens Iraq” and “is a danger to the region”.

“We will take measures to safeguard the nation’s unity and protect all Iraqis,” he warned in a televised address from Baghdad.

The United States and United Nations both opposed the vote, describing it as a unilateral and potentially destabilising move.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US wouldn’t alter its “historic relationship” with Iraqi Kurds but the referendum would increase hardships for the Kurdish region of Iraq. She said the Islamic State group and other extremists are hoping to “exploit instability and discord”.

Statements from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed regret that the vote was held and said issues between Iraq’s federal government and the Kurdish region should be resolved through dialogue.

A dream come true?

The promise of an independent state has long been at the centre of Iraqi Kurdish politics. When colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I, the Kurds were divided among Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

That dream was evident among some of the voters in the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Image result for Turkish military exercises, Kurds, Photos

Turkish army began military exercises on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan

“I feel so great and happy. I feel we’ll be free,” said Kurdish resident Suad Pirot after voting. “Nobody will rule us. We will be independent.”

The oil-rich city has large Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian communities, and it has seen some low-level clashes in the days leading up to the vote. A curfew was imposed Monday evening for fear of more violence.

Baghdad residents strongly criticised the referendum, saying it would raise sectarian tensions and create an “Israel in Iraq”.

“This is a division of Iraq,” said journalist Raad Mohammad. Another Baghdad resident, Ali al-Rubayah, described the vote as a “black day in the history of the Kurds”.

Lawyer Tariq al-Zubaydi said the referendum was inappropriate amid the “ongoing threat of terrorism and Islamic State” militants.

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Turkish tanks are seen during a military exercise near the Turkish-Iraqi border in Silopi

“The country is going through a difficult period. This requires a coming together of our efforts,” he said. “A unified country is better for all.”

Speaking in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey doesn’t recognise the referendum and declared its results would be “null and void”.

Erdogan also suggested Turkey could halt the flow of oil from a pipeline from northern Iraq, a lifeline for the land-locked Kurdish region battling a severe economic crisis.

Turkey has urged the international community – and especially regional countries – not to recognise the vote and urged Iraq Kurdish leaders to abandon “utopic goals”, accusing them of endangering peace and stability for Iraq and the whole region.

“We could arrive suddenly one night,” Erdogan said, pointing to Turkish military exercises underway along Turkey’s border with the Iraqi Kurdish region.

“Our military is not [there] for nothing,” he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Iraq parliament demands troops go to areas disputed with Kurds

September 25, 2017


© AFP/File | Iraqi soldiers pictured on a Russian-made T-72 tank as they advance towards the city of al-Sharqat, north of Baghdad, on September 20, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq’s parliament demanded Monday that troops be sent to disputed areas in the north controlled by the Kurds since 2003 as the autonomous Kurdish area staged a referendum on independence.

“Parliament demands that the head of the army (Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi) deploy forces in all of the zones the autonomous region of Kurdistan has taken control of since 2003,” a resolution said.

Under Iraq’s constitution, the government is obliged to comply with the parliamentary vote.

The zones disputed between the Kurds and the federal government in Baghdad are not part of the three provinces in northern Iraq that form the autonomous Kurdish area.

The disputed areas are the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, as well as parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salaheddin provinces.

Most of the disputed areas were conquered by Kurdish peshmerga forces in 2014 in the chaos that followed a sweeping offensive by the Islamic State group.

Iran closes border with Iraqi Kurdistan — Calls referendum on independence “illegal and illegitimate”

September 25, 2017


© AFP | Kurdish Peshmergas place their ink-stained fingers on a Kurdish flag after voting in the Kurdish independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 25, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran has shut its border with Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its independence referendum, the foreign ministry said Monday.”At the request of the Iraqi government, we have closed our land and air borders” with Iraqi Kurdistan, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said at a press conference.

The referendum is “illegal and illegitimate,” he added.

Iran had already announced on Sunday that it was stopping all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the vote.

President Hassan Rouhani spoke overnight with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, saying: “The Islamic republic of Iran fully supports the central government of Iraq.”

The referendum went ahead on Monday despite strong opposition from Baghdad and its neighbours, as well as Western governments including the United States.

Iran fears the vote could encourage separatists in its own Kurdish region, and said last week that independence could mean an end to all of border and security arrangements.

Iranian security forces have faced regular attacks by militant Kurdish separatists, primarily based across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Defying Baghdad, Iraqi Kurds vote in independence referendum — “Today is a celebration for all Kurds. God willing, we will say yes, yes to dear Kurdistan.”

September 25, 2017
© Safin Hamed, AFP | Iraqi Kurds check for their names on the voting lists posted outside a polling station in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on the eve on the Kurdish independence referendum on September 24, 2017.

Video by Shirli SITBON

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-09-25

Voting started on Monday in an independence referendum organised by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, despite regional and international fears that it would stoke instability and violence across the Middle East.

Polling stations opened their doors at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) and should close at 6:00 p.m. The final results should be announced within 72 hours.

The vote, expected to deliver a comfortable “yes” for independence, is not binding and is meant to give Massoud Barzani’s KRG a mandate to negotiate secession of the oil producing region with Baghdad and the neighbouring states.

“We have been waiting 100 years for this day,” said Rizgar, standing in a queue of men waiting to cast a ballot in a school in Erbil, the KRG capital.

“We want to have a state, with God’s help. Today is a celebration for all Kurds. God willing, we will say yes, yes to dear Kurdistan.”

The vote, initiated by veteran leader Barzani, has angered not only the federal government but also neighbouring Turkey and Iran, concerned it could stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities.

Polling stations are scattered across the three northern provinces of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk, as well as in disputed bordering zones such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

As Barzani pledged on Sunday to go ahead with the historic referendum after having resisted a barrage of international pressure to call it off, Iraq‘s leader pledged to take all the “necessary measures” to protect the country’s unity and his government targeted the Kurds’ oil sales.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that taking the Kurds’ unilateral decision to stage a referendum affected both Iraqi and regional security, and was “unconstitutional and against civil peace”.

“We will take the necessary measures to preserve the unity of the country,” he said, without elaborating.

Hours later, the Iraqi government at a meeting of its security cabinet called on all countries “to deal only with it on matters of oil and borders”.

The Iraqi Kurds export an average 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) through a pipeline running through Turkey to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

Tehran also upped the pressure on Sunday, saying it had blocked all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan at Baghdad’s request.

Washington and many Western states had opposed the vote, saying it would hamper the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in which cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurds has been key.

But Barzani said the Kurds’ “partnership with Baghdad” since the ousted of dictator Saddam Hussein in the 2003 US-led invasion had failed and urged his people to turn out and vote.

“We expect reactions from one side or another but we are convinced that whatever the risk and the price, it’s better than waiting for a dark outcome,” he said.

“The referendum is not for defining borders or imposing a fait accompli. We want a dialogue with Baghdad to resolve the problems, and the dialogue can last one or two years,” Barzani said of zones such as Kirkuk.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)