KRG pledges to restore financial aid for students after protests | Protests News

Baghdad, Iraq – According to state media, authorities in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region have pledged to provide financial aid to university students after days of protests demanding the reintroduction of a monthly stipend that was halted seven years ago.

The decision of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) late Wednesday came after several thousand protesters took to the streets of Sulaimaniyah for the fourth day in a row. Security forces fired live shots at Sara Square in the city to disperse the crowd, injuring a student, the local NRT station reported.

It was not immediately clear how much money the authorities would provide. Before 2014, the KRG offered students a monthly stipend of 60,000 to 100,000 Iraqi dinars (about $40 to $70). However, the fee was subsequently canceled, with authorities citing the budget allocated to fight the armed group IS (ISIS) and the global collapse in oil prices.

With ISIL largely defeated and oil prices recovering, students are demanding the resumption of payment.

‘Legislative right’

The protests that began on Sunday became increasingly violent over the days, with security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets and deploying water cannons to disperse the protesters blocking the main roads in Sulaimaniyah. Protesters, meanwhile, threw rocks and tear gas canisters at the security forces and also set fire to a number of government buildings in the city.

Small-scale protests also spread to other cities in the region, including Erbil, Halabja, Kalar and Koya. A solidarity demonstration also took place on Tuesday evening in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, in which several dozen people took part.

The hashtag #SulaymaniyahOppresses also started trending on Twitter as people shared their frustrations over the government’s response to what they termed “peaceful protesters.”

On Wednesday, police blocked journalists from entering the University of Sulaimaniyah, one of the main hot spots since the protests began. Security forces entered the grounds and fired tear gas at students who remained on campus, an Al Jazeera reporter on the ground said. Police also beat protesters and reporters with electric shock batons, the reporter said.

“We are asking for our legitimate right to resume paying our monthly allowances, but the Kurdish government is responding by deploying all these security and Peshmerga forces,” said Awin, a second-year student at the Sulaimaniyah Technical Institute. to Al Jazeera earlier. on Wednesday, requesting that only her first name be given for fear of reprisals.

Awin insisted that the protesters “did not create chaos and violence” and said that “it was the Kurdish security forces that confronted the unarmed students”

The KRG did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Peshraw Hama Jan, assistant to the president of the University of Sulaymaniyah, said the institution has “always supported the legitimate rights of our students and their demand for the reinstatement of stipends is fully legitimate”, adding that they “have their demands submitted to the KRG Minister of Higher Education Aram Muhammed”.

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

Some officials have also expressed support for the students in recent days.

Haval Abubaker, the governor of Sulaimaniyah province, wrote on Facebook on Monday that “the province of the [students’] calls for and opposes violence and interference”.

‘Youth increasingly hopeless’

In the Kurdish region of Iraq, there have been protests in recent years in areas dominated by both the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two parties that have effectively had a political and economic duopoly.

Despite being hailed as the target for the development of the rest of Iraq, the region has a long track record of corruption and financial mismanagement.

Recently, it has also been in the spotlight internationally amid the ongoing refugee crisis on the Belarus-Poland border. Many Iraqi Kurds have embarked on the journey to Europe in recent weeks, some of them seeking better economic opportunities.

“Students came out to claim their rights, which is a very modest allowance, but they were faced with unjust forces,” Mustafa Khalid, a resident of Sulaimaniyah, told Al Jazeera.

“And everyone was surprised that we saw migrants on the borders of Belarus – this is the reason,” he said.

Commenting on the news of the financial aid, Khalid said: “We should see if these fees will materialize and if they are not just words.”

“But we also need to see the change in our education system and the PUK thugs will be responsible for attacking peaceful protesters.”

Kamaran Palani, a research associate at the Middle East Research Institute, an Erbil-based think tank, wrote on Twitter that “youth protests in Iraqi Kurdistan are a response to and the result of their frustration.

“Without viable recourse to mechanisms that could enable young people to change their difficult circumstances, young people become increasingly hopeless and eager to resist in various forms.”

Shawn Yuan reported from Baghdad and Dana Taib Menmy reported from Sulaimaniyah.

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