Protests by shop owners angry at renewed coronavirus curfew resume for second day

KRG balancing public health, economic challanges
Vendors in Sulaimani fruit and vegetable market protested on Tuesday June 2, 2020 (NRT Digital Media)

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SULAIMANI — Shop owners and workers in several cities in the Kurdistan Region protested on Tuesday (June 2) against the government’s decision to reimplement a coronavirus curfew, saying it was causing severe damage to their livelihoods.

The protests are indicative of the bind in which the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) finds itself: on the one hand, it is working to mitigate the public health effects of a deadly outbreak that has spread quickly over the last three weeks, but on the other hand it does not have the financial means to provide basic needs for residents who rely on a daily income to survive.

Countries around the world are facing similar challenges in balancing the competing requirements of protecting the health of their citizens and ensuring that their economies continue to function, but the Kurdistan Region's acute financial problems leave it without many tools to respond to protesters’ demands.

“Because the government cannot provide for the lives of the people, we will not follow their guidelines,” one shop owner in Darbandikhan told an NRT reporter.

The government’s decision to reimplement the curfew on Monday came as the number of coronavirus surged over the last three weeks. Since May 13, health authorities have recorded 353 new cases, nearly half of the Region's 745 total cases since March 1. On Sunday alone, there were 101 new cases recorded in Sulaimani governorate.

Eight people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus infection.

Reaction to the new curfew started on Monday night with protests in Darbandikhan, Ranya, and Qaladze.

On Tuesday, protest actions against the curfew began again in Darbandikhan and Ranya where shop owners opened their shops in defiance of the curfew and spread to several locations in Sulaimani city, Erbil, and Kalar.

“The [KRG] Ministry of Interior reimposed the curfew and [extended the] travel ban between the governorates without considering the local produce of farmers,” a vendor in Sulaimani's fruit and vegetable market told NRT during a protest there.

“We call on the [KRG] to enable farmers to travel between cities and towns to sell their produce,” he continued, adding that the inability to sell their what they have harvested was causing significant economic harm to their businesses.

NRT reporter Zhalla Muhammed said that nearly 250 shop owners and workers in Sulaimani’s Mawlawi and Goran streets protested outside the main bazaar, demanding that they be able to reopen their shops.

However, they were prevented from doing so by the security forces.

Sulaimani Police Director Aso Taha went to talk to protesters on Mawlawi Street and agreed that the protesters' grievances seemed legitimate.

“We will listen to them because they are our own people,” he said, but added that the security forces would continue to enforce the curfew restrictions.

“The people’s duty is to abide by the public health guidelines and we call on them to do so when their shops and places are reopened,” Taha said.

As of early afternoon, some protesters were still in the bazaar area hoping to plead their case to municipal officials at city government's headquarters nearby. Officials reportedly promised them that they will resolve the issue by relaxing some of the restrictions starting tomorrow.

Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that the government had lost the trust of the people because of its handling of the crisis.

“The previous time, people believed them [the KRG], but this time they do not,” one shop owner in Sulaimani told NRT.

“At the beginning they said the shops will be closed two days, then ten days, then it became two months, and now people say that today or tomorrow we will open our shops,” he added.

In Kalar, one shop owner, however, bluntly told an NRT reporter that he thought it was “better to die from the virus than to die from hunger.”

(NRT Digital Media)