Protesters gesture towards security forces during clashes in Sulaimaniyah
Sulaimaniyah - Arab Today
Four people have been killed in two days of demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan, where discontent over unpaid salaries grew into protests demanding the regional president's ouster.
Guards shot dead two demonstrators in Kalar on Saturday as protesters tried to storm the local headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), a hospital official said.
"Two protesters have died of bullet wounds. One was 19 and the other 40," the official told AFP, adding that 19 people were wounded.
Witnesses and a security official said the protesters eventually set fire to the local KDP office in Kalar, a town in the southernmost part of Iraq's Kurdish region.
Thousands of people demonstrated in the main southern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, in Kalar and in several other towns Saturday, demanding that acting regional president Massud Barzani step down.
Two protesters were shot dead in similar circumstances on Friday in Qala Diza, further north.
The demonstrations were initially protests against the non-payment of salaries to civil servants by the Kurdish Regional Government, which faces a dire budget crisis.
They have evolved into a mobilisation against Barzani in areas of Iraqi Kurdistan where opposition to the KDP is traditionally strong.
"Our demands are not only focused on corruption and salaries but they now include Barzani's removal," said Nazar Mohammed, a civil society activist and one of the organisers of the protest in Sulaimaniyah.
The protests come against the tense backdrop of a political crisis that started in August, when Barzani's presidential mandate expired and no deal was reached for his succession.
- Political crisis -
Mohammed argued that the political class's inability to solve the crisis showed disregard for regular citizens.
"The main parties don't care about the people. All they worry about is the presidency, all this at the detriment of the people who are in a bad economic situation," he said.
Some protesters tried to storm the Sulaimaniyah office of the Kurdish TV station Rudaw, which is owned by the Barzani family.
Minar Mohammed, the head of the local hospital, said 25 people were lightly injured in scuffles during the Sulaimaniyah protest.
Security forces responded to stone-throwing from protesters by firing in the air, witnesses said.
No such protests have yet taken place in northern and western regions traditionally more loyal to the KDP.
Barzani on Saturday morning appealed for calm across the region.
The 69-year-old has headed the KDP, one of the two historical Iraqi Kurdish parties, since 1979 and been president of the autonomous region since 2005.
His son is the Kurdistan region's intelligence chief and his nephew the prime minister.
Barzani has been accused by critics of amassing huge wealth for his family instead of serving the population.
He served two terms and the two-year extension Kurdish parties agreed to in 2013 expired on August 19, leaving the region in an institutional vacuum.
Barzani wants to stay on, arguing that his leadership is required to steer the region as its peshmerga forces play a leading role in battling the Islamic State group.