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September 20, 2017

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Kurdistan lawmakers vote in favour of holding independence referendum

ERBIL - The parliament of Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan voted Friday in favour of holding an independence referendum, which is set for September 25.

Sixty-five members of parliament voted in favour of holding the referendum for the Kurdistan region.

Seventy-three members of the 111-strong parliament attended the session, which started with the national anthem, Kurdish news portal Rudaw reported.

The Gorran (Change) party and the Islamic Group, which have called for postponing the referendum to an unspecified date, boycotted the session, the parliament's first since October 2015.

In June, Kurdish leaders announced a plan to hold a vote on Kurdistan's independence and scheduled it for September 25.

Baghdad has condemned the referendum, calling it "unconstitutional" and "unilateral."

The planned referendum has also alarmed Iraq's neighbours - Turkey, Iran and Syria - that are worried it will encourage their Kurdish minorities to splinter off.

Several lawmakers from Kurdistan's main political parties expressed support for the referendum as they addressed the parliamentary session on Friday.

Lawmaker Omed Khoshnaw from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) called the referendum a "message of peace" to Baghdad and neighbours.

"We, from the KDP, believe that except for independence, there is no other way to give the people of Kurdistan a guarantee that genocide will never be repeated," he added.

In late 1980s, forces of Iraq's then autocrat Saddam Hussein unleashed several attacks on Kurdish areas, including with chemical weapons.

In recent years, there have been tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan over power-sharing, oil revenues and territorial disputes.

The United States and other Western powers have expressed opposition to Kurdistan's independence vote, fearing it will fuel regional unrest and distract attention from ongoing campaigns to rout Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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