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Scores detained at anti-war protest start hunger strike in Slemani

SCORES of detainees who were taken into custody during an anti-war demonstration in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region have started a hunger strike in protest at their treatment, the Morning Star heard today.

At least 54 people, including eight women, were held during an  operation by security forces on Sunday evening against a protest called by the Tevgara Azadi organisation in the city of Slemani.

ANF journalist Rebaz Hessen, who was released on Tuesday following international pressure, said that those remaining behind bars included people with heart conditions and other medical complaints.

“Some of the detainees have nothing to do with the protest held on April 25,” he added. “They were detained randomly as they were just passing. They are also carrying out a hunger strike like the others.”

Hundreds of armed police and local intelligence officials swarmed Salim Street, Slemani’s main thoroughfare, looking for those involved in the demonstration.

A source who asked to remain anonymous said today that the arrest orders probably came from Turkey, working alongside the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is controlled by the Barzani family.

“Turkey has increased its military presence, with more than 100 bases in the areas of KDP control,” he said. “We [Kurds] are under attack from both sides, from Turkey in the north and [the Iranian militia] Popular Mobilisation Forces in the south.”

Tevgara Azadi is based in Slemani and is seen as supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), following the philosophy of its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan.

It has vowed to stage further demonstrations until all of those held are released safe and unharmed.

Political dissent is barely tolerated in Iraqi Kurdistan, where journalists and government critics are often targeted for arrest and even assassination.

The greatest pressure is applied in Erbil governate, which is under KDP control. Slemani governate is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by the Talibani family.

Last year, massive anti-government protests erupted in the region over the government’s failure to pay public-sector wages. At least nine people were killed and the offices of political parties burnt down as anger spread to most major towns and cities.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s invasion of the mountainous Duhok province continues, with clashes between its soldiers and PKK guerillas in the so-called Medya Defence Zones.

The British Foreign Office was contacted for comment on the detentions and allegations that Turkey has used chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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