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Iraqi security forces deploy in Kirkuk after four protesters killed in ethnic clashes

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SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) -Iraqi security forces deployed in the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Sunday to prevent further violence as the death toll in clashes between ethnic groups the previous day rose to four, police and security sources said.

Four protesters were shot dead on Saturday in clashes between ethnic groups in Kirkuk that broke out after days of tensions. Police and medical sources said all four were Kurdish.

Amir Shwani, a spokesman for Kirkuk police, said in a statement to reporters a curfew had been lifted and vehicles were moving normally in the city on Sunday.

But security forces had deployed additional troops on the streets to “prevent violence and protect civilians”, he said.

The dispute centres on a building in Kirkuk that was once the headquarters for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) but which the Iraqi army has used a base since 2017.

Iraq’s federal supreme court issued an urgent ruling on Sunday obliging the government to delay procedures regarding the handover of a building in Kirkuk to the KDP, the state news agency reported.

The ruling could raise tensions amid discussions over the return of the powerful Kurdish party to the city.

Military helicopters flew over the city on Sunday, according to four Kirkuk residents who spoke to Reuters by phone.

Shwani confirmed that four protesters had been killed and 15 people were wounded. Residents said police detained several people on Sunday who had participated in the clashes but police refused to comment on any arrests.

Kirkuk, an oil-rich province in northern Iraq along the fault lines between the Kurdish autonomous region and areas controlled by Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated central government, has been the focus of some of the country’s worst post-Islamic State violence.

Arab residents and minority groups, who say they suffered under Kurdish rule, have protested the KDP’s return to the city.

(Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Ros Russell and Hugh Lawson)

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