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35 hurt as protest turns violent

Iraqi police have opened fire on stone-throwing crowds protesting against government corruption in Iraq's northern Kurdish region.

At least 35 people were wounded, some of them by gunfire, a doctor said.

It was the latest protest to turn violent in Sulaimaniyah, a city in the normally peaceful Kurdish region where demonstrations calling for political and economic reforms have been held nearly every day over several months.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki lauded Iraq's security forces as ready to protect the country in a meeting with US House Speaker John Boehner.

In Sulaimaniyah, located 160 miles north-east of Baghdad, witnesses said some police fired into the air to clear protesters blocking a road and others shot into the crowd. Seven people were shot, including two local journalists, said Sulaimaniyah health director Dr Regald Hama Rasheed.

He said the other 28 people were wounded by thrown rocks or were taken to hospital because of breathing problems from the tear gas.

No deaths were immediately reported. At least nine protesters have been killed in anti-government demonstrations in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region since February 17. The demonstrations appear to have taken inspiration from the other flashes of unrest spreading across the Middle East and North Africa.

Meeting with Mr Boehner on Saturday night, Mr Maliki repeated his belief that US forces will no longer be needed to help Iraq's shaky stability after the end of the year.

"The Iraqi armed and security forces are able to handle the responsibility of maintaining security, and work in a professional way," Mr Maliki told Mr Boehner, according to a statement issued by the prime minister's office.

Mr Maliki has maintained that the estimated 46,000 US troops currently in Iraq must leave by December 31 as required under a security agreement between Baghdad and Washington. However, a small number of active-duty soldiers - currently estimated at 119 - will remain in Iraq next year as part of a US Embassy office to continue training Iraqi forces as they buy new arms and equipment from American firms.

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