Internationals arrive in Kurdistan to observe independence voting

Main opposition CHP says gov't should be 'cool-headed' on KRG referendum

The disputed areas are the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, as well as parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salaheddin provinces.

At Sheikh Amir village, near the Peshmerga front lines west of Erbil, long lines of Kurdish fighters waited to vote at a former school.

Turnout among 5.2 million eligible voters was 78 percent, the Kurdish Rudaw TV station said, and vote counting had started. So far, 136 global observing teams, 142 worldwide media outlets, and 35 global individual observers have taken part in this process, Sherwan Zrar, the spokesperson of Kurdistan's Independent High Referendum and Electoral Commission (IHREC) told Rudaw on Saturday.

KRG leader Masoud Barzani, however, said a "Yes" vote would not result in an automatic declaration of independence but would simply lead to further negotiations with Baghdad.

The commission said the turnout stood at 76 per cent.

The vote went ahead despite objections from officials in Baghdad.

The zones disputed between the Kurds and the federal government in Baghdad are not part of the three provinces in northern Iraq that form the autonomous Kurdish area.

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The European Union also cautioned political parties in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region against holding the independence referendum.

"Iraq's neighbors are anxious that a Kurdish state would encourage their own Kurdish populations to try to break away".

He pointed to Turkish military exercises now taking place on Turkey's border with the Iraqi Kurdish region.

President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could cut off the pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the outside world, piling more pressure on the Kurds.

Kirkuk, home to Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, has been a particular point of concern and late on Monday police said a curfew was being imposed in the centre of the city and in Arab and Turkmen areas "to ensure security, monitor the situation and protect the citizens of Kirkuk". However, she said "almost every voter who has come in here. has been Kurdish". There were fewer billboards celebrating the referendum, reflecting resentment that a yes vote could be seen as a plebiscite for the Kurdish leader.

He also told Iraqi Kurd authorities to ensure that the work of the United Nations mission in Iraq "will be allowed to continue unhindered". "Iraq has made clear that it's not going to do that, so they might actually be heading into quite a unsafe stalemate".

Voting closed at 6pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Monday, and the final results are expected to be announced within 72 hours.

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