KRG pledges to restore student financial support after protest | Protest News

Baghdad, Iraq -According to official media reports, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region authorities in Iraq have pledged to provide financial support to university students after protests in the previous days called for the restoration of monthly allowances that were cut seven years ago.

After thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Sulaymaniyah for the fourth consecutive day, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) took this step late on Wednesday. According to the local NRT broadcasting company, security forces fired live ammunition in the city’s Sarah Square to disperse the crowd and wounded a student.

It is not clear how much funding the authorities will provide. Before 2014, KRG provided students with a monthly allowance of 60,000 to 100,000 Iraqi Dinars (approximately US$40 to US$70). However, the allowance was subsequently cancelled, and the authorities cited the budget used to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) armed groups and the collapse of global oil prices.

With ISIL now largely defeated and oil prices rebounding, students have been demanding resumption of payments.

‘Legal rights’

As the days passed, the protests that began on Sunday became more and more violent. Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and deployed water cannons to disperse demonstrators blocking Sulaymaniyah’s main road. At the same time, protesters threw stones and tear gas cans at security forces and set ablaze some government buildings in the city.

Smaller protests have also spread to other cities in the region, including Erbil, Harabja, Karar and Koya. On Tuesday night, a solidarity demonstration was held in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, with dozens of people participating.

The hashtag #SulaymaniyahOppresses also became popular on Twitter as people shared their dissatisfaction with the government’s response to what they called “peaceful protesters.”

On Wednesday, the police prevented journalists from entering Sulaymaniyah University, one of the main flashpoints since the beginning of the protests. According to Al Jazeera reporters on the website, security forces entered the site and fired tear gas at the students who remained on the campus. The reporter said that the police also beat protesters and reporters with electric batons.

“We demand our legal right to resume payment of our monthly allowance, but the Kurdish government is deploying all these security and freedom fighter forces in response,” said Avin, a second-year female student at Sulaymaniyah Technical College earlier. Al Jazeera told Al Jazeera that on Wednesday, out of fear of retaliation, she asked for only her name to be mentioned.

Avin insisted that the protesters “did not create chaos or violence” and said that “Kurdish security forces are confronting unarmed students.”

KRG has not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Sulaymaniyah University President Assistant Peshraw Hama Jan stated that the institution “has always supported the legal rights of our students, and their request for reinstatement of the allowance is completely legal”, adding that they “have made a request to KRG”. Alam Muhammad, Minister of Higher Education”.

“We call on our students not to let some students turn peaceful demonstrations into violence,” Hama Jan told Al Jazeera.

In recent days, some officials have also expressed support for the students.

The Governor of Sulaymaniyah Province Haval Abubaker wrote on Facebook on Monday, “The province supports [students’] Demand and oppose violence and interference”.

“Youth are getting more and more hopeless”

In the Kurdistan region of Iraq in the past few years, protests have taken place in areas dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). These two parties actually enjoy a political and economic duopoly.

Although hailed as a development target for other parts of Iraq, the region has a long history of corruption and financial mismanagement.

Recently, it has also become the focus of international attention in the ongoing refugee crisis on the Belarus-Poland border. In recent weeks, many Iraqi Kurds have embarked on a journey to Europe, and some of them have sought better economic opportunities.

“Students came out to ask for the rights allocated to them. This is a very meagre allowance, but they face injustice,” Sulaymaniyah resident Mustafa Khalid told Al Jazeera.

“Everyone is surprised that we see migrants at the Belarusian border-that’s why,” he said.

In response to news of financial support, Khalid said: “We have to see if these allowances will be realized, not just verbal.”

“But we also need to see the changes in our education system. The PUK mob will be responsible for attacking peaceful protesters.”

Kamalampalani, a researcher at the Middle East Institute, a think tank in Erbil, wrote on Twitter, “The youth protests in Iraqi Kurdistan are their response to setbacks and the result.

“If there is no feasible mechanism for young people to change their plight, young people will become increasingly desperate and eager to resist in different forms.”

Shawn Yuan reported from Baghdad, and Dana Taib Menmy reported from Sulaymaniyah.

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