Protesters in Kurdistan Region call for government to step down, early elections

Some demonstration in Erbil, Duhok prevented by police
Protesters in Sulaimani's Azadi Park on Wednesday August 12, 2020 (NRT Digital Media)

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SULAIMANI — Protesters gathered in cities across the Kurdistan Region on Wednesday (August 12) to demand that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) step down and that early elections be held under the auspices of the United Nations, but were prevented from congregating in several locations.

Primarily organized by the New Generation Movement, successful protests were held in Sulaimani, Halabja, Said Sadiq, Ranya, Qaladze, Kalar, Chamchamal, and Darbandikhan.

NRT reporters in Duhok and Erbil said that the security forces in those cities had prevented demonstrators from gathering in the designated locations.

New Generation Movement President Shaswar Abdulwahid joined the protest in Sulaimani’s Azadi Park in the central part of the city and hailed the demonstrations as an “initial step of a civil revolution for a civil authority, to end this oppression that exists in the Kurdistan [Region].”

“Your participation here proves that we still have the will,” Abdulwahid continued.

“This nation did not lower its head to previous regimes and it will not lower its head to the current regime that exists in the Kurdistan [Region],” he said. “I am proud of those brave and proud people who came out to the streets in all the different cities.”

In a statement published on Tuesday, the organizers issued a list of four demands, including the immediate dissolution of the KRG and early elections, the formation of a caretaker administration, the dissolution of the current electoral commission and its replacement of an independent one under the auspices of the United Nations, and the dissolution of the current judiciary and its replacement with independent judges free from partisan influence.

While the protests passed off peacefully in most locations, the security forces in Erbil and Duhok governorates closed down strategic locations to prevent protesters from congregating in public spaces.

In Duhok city and Shiladze town, municipal officials closed the main bazaars, justifying doing so by saying that they needed to be sanitized as a measure against the coronavirus outbreak, which prevented protesters from gathering there.

New Generation Movement lawmaker in the Kurdistan Parliament Sipan Amedi posted a video online saying that the Duhok Asayish had hit him and had prevented protesters from gathering.

The security forces prevented NRT reporters in Duhok from leaving their office for several hours, forcing them to cover the protests by communicating remotely with participants.

Three New Generation members were arrested in Zakho, including a member of the Movement’s High Council.

In Erbil city, several dozen protesters who did manage to gather were later dispersed by police. An NRT camera operator was briefly detained while covering the demonstration and the reporting team’s equipment seized.

There was a three-hour internet disruption, particularly affecting the O3 network in Erbil during the late afternoon, according to internet outage monitor Netblocks.

The Movement said several of its members were arrested in Erbil as well, but did not immediately provide an exact number or whether they had been released from custody.

An NRT reporting team was detained for several hours in Koya along with their vehicle by the Erbil Eastern Asayish.

At the largest demonstration of the day in Sulaimani, Abdulwahid said that people should continue to protest and not be discouraged in the face of the government’s actions.

The organizers in Sulaimani told NRT reporters that they planned to set up tents in Azadi Park.

“Today is the day in which we tell this authority: I exist, I am a human being, and I ask for my dignity,” Abdulwahid said.

(NRT Digital Media)

This story was updated at 9:26 p.m. EBL