Turnout of 78% out of a total of 5.3 million registered voters. Polls indicate 90% in favor but the official results are still awaited. Baghdad takes control of Kurdistan airports. Erdogan threatens to starve the Kurds and fuels fears of "ethnic conflict." Iran fears "political chaos" and the Kurdish-Israeli alliance.
Erbil (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has announced the overwhelming victory of "yes" to the controversial Kurdistan independence referendum, which was held on 25 September and has already provoked the worries of Tehran and Ankara .
High turnout: At the end of over 12,000 polling stations scattered across the three Kurdistan provinces - Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk - 78% voted out of a total of 5.3 million registered voters. There was also a reasonable turnout in the controversial province - and rich in oil in the underground - Kirkuk, where the local governorate imposed the curfew (then removed) at the closure of polling stations fearing incidents of violence.
The Kurds, who have governed the autonomous region since 2003 following the US-led international invasion that led to the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein, consider the referendum as a "historic step" towards the birth of a state. In contrast, Baghdad considers the vote anti-constitutional also because it did not only take place in the Kurdish region, but referred to "territories in the center of disputes".
In a speech to the nation, Barzani proclaimed the victory of the "yes" vote and called on the central government to initiate a "serious dialogue" with Erbil instead of threatening the region's leadership with various sanctions and retaliation. "Hard times could come - said Barzani - but we will be able to overcome them." He then invited the world powers to "respect the will of millions of people" who voted in the referendum.
Previously, Kurdistan Television Rudaw TV reported the overwhelming win of the Yes vote, with a 90% share. The announcement of official results is scheduled for later today.
The reaction of main regional and international powers, especially Turkey and Iran, has been immediate. Baghdad yesterday launched an ultimatum to the Kurds, asking them to transfer airports control to the central government. The Iraqi Parliament voted a resolution announcing the allocation of "all areas" of the security forces, but it has not yet been applied.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "starve" the Kurds as a result of a series of punitive measures should they continue the journey towards the birth of an independent entity. The Turkish leader accused the Kurdistan regional government of "betrayal" and addressed Barzani, urging him to "put an end to this adventure".
Erdogan insisted that one of the consequences of the vote is the risk of "ethnic and confessional conflict" in the region. Turkey, he concluded, is ready to consider "all options" on the ground - from economic sanctions to military intervention - to end the irredentist dream.
Lastly, there are also reactions from Tehran, which fears the risk of a serious "political chaos" in the Middle East as a result of the vote. "The response of this political move - warns Ali Akbar Velayati, chief adviser to Iran's supreme leadership - is political chaos in the region." "The honorable Kurdistan people - he added - will not be able to withstand this misfortune." Behind Tehran's statements there are fears about the possible independent Kurdish pushes within Iranian borders and the reinforced link between Erbil and Israel, the only one among the states in the region to support the referendum.