Trump says Otto Warmbier was ‘tortured beyond belief’ in North Korea

Otto Warmbier, 22, died in June a few days after he was sent home in a mysterious coma following more than a year in prison in North Korea.

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He had been convicted of offenses against the state for trying to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor.

No US official had previously publicly accused North Korea of torture in the case.

Trump’s comment early Tuesday on Twitter followed the airing of a Fox News interview with Warmbier’s parents.

“Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea,” Trump posted.

His post followed the airing of an interview with Warmbier’s parents.

“They kidnapped Otto, they tortured him, they intentionally injured him. They are not victims, they are terrorists,” Fred Warmbier said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.”

The father had previously criticised former president Barack Obama’s administration for how little it did for their son, saying officials had counseled the family against speaking out to avoid antagonizing the North Korean regime.

Three Americans accused of various crimes against the state are behind bars in the North, which is engaged in a tense standoff with the Trump administration over its banned missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Great interview on @foxandfriends with the parents of Otto Warmbier: 1994 – 2017. Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017

The US wants a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday, as China warned there would be “no winners” in a war on the Korean peninsula.

Tensions have soared after Pyongyang claimed the United States had declared war against it and threatened to shoot down US bombers, in an escalating spat between President Donald Trump and the isolated regime.

After the White House took the unusual step of denying it had opened the door to conflict with the nuclear-armed Asian nation, Mattis said Washington’s goal was “to solve this diplomatically”.

“We maintain the capability to deter North Korea’s most dangerous threats but also to back up our diplomats in a manner that keeps this as long as possible in the diplomatic realm,” he said in New Delhi after talks with his Indian counterpart.

The Pentagon chief’s emphasis on diplomacy comes as Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un traded barbs in the wake of the North’s sixth nuclear bomb and multiple missile tests. Pyongyang says it needs the weapons to defend itself against the threat of a US invasion.

The North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho on Monday called a press conference to hit back at a US bomber mission near the North’s coastline and a slew of bombastic warnings from the American president.  

Taking umbrage at Trump’s weekend tweet that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its threats, Ri told reporters that the international community hoped that a “war of words” would “not turn into real actions”.

“However, last weekend, Trump claimed our leadership would not be around much longer,” said Ri, who attended this year’s UN General Assembly session. “He declared a war on our country.”

The White House said Ri’s interpretation of Trump’s sabre-rattling as “absurd”.

Alarm over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes dominated the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, amid fears the heated rhetoric could accidentally trigger a war.

China, the North’s neighbour and only major ally, warned Tuesday that any conflict would have “no winners”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing that the rhetorical sparring “will only increase the risk of confrontation and reduce the room for policy manoeuvres”.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in cautioned that the security situation on the peninsular was now “more serious than ever”, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“We will make North Korea realise that it has no future should it try to face the rest of the world with nukes,” he said, though he added there was still a chance for dialogue.

Fears of a clash were sharpened after US bombers flew off the coast of North Korea on Saturday — going further north of the demilitarised zone than any US aircraft has flown this century.

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to take counter-measures including the right to shoot down US strategic bombers even when they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country,” Ri said.

“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”

A Pentagon spokesman stressed the bombers flew in international airspace and had every right to do so.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that while Pyongyang did not appear to have picked up the presence of the US warplanes over the weekend, it had since bolstered its coastal defences. 

“North Korea relocated its warplanes and strengthened defences along the east coast,” said Lee Cheol-Woo, the chief of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee.

Risk of accidental clash 

As tensions reached fever-pitch, there have been repeated appeals for calm from the United Nations, Russia and China.

South Korea, whose densely-populated capital Seoul is located just 35 miles from the demilitarised zone dividing the Korean peninsula, has also asked the US to take the heat out of the situation.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Washington said it was imperative to “prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control”.

In his UN address last week, Trump delivered the blunt threat to “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked, deriding leader Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man”.

Kim hit back with a personal attack, branding Trump “mentally deranged” and a “dotard” and warning he would “pay dearly”.

In his UN address, Ri warned that Trump’s threat to destroy North Korea made “our rockets’ visit to the entire US mainland all the more inevitable”.

Netanyahu demands Abbas condemn Palestinian killing of three Israelis at settlement

The attack, which came as US envoy Jason Greenblatt was due in Jerusalem for talks on relaunching the moribund Middle East peace process, drew condemnation from Israeli officials who called for action from the Palestinian leadership.

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It also occurred in the middle of the Jewish high holiday period, when Israeli-Palestinian violence has erupted in the past, and led police to order reinforcements to prevent further unrest.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded a clear condemnation of the attack from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, adding that the gunman’s home would be demolished and Israeli work permits withdrawn from his extended family.

The target of the attack was Har Adar, a well-to-do settlement northwest of Jerusalem, high in the hills close to the Green Line that separates the occupied West Bank from Israel.

The windows of the guard booth at its northern entrance, where Palestinian day labourers are required to undergo security checks, had been shattered by the shooting, an AFP correspondent reported.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that the gunman, who had a permit to work in the settlement, had concealed himself among other Palestinian labourers.

“He hesitated and then all of a sudden, several metres (yards) before a security check, pulled out a nine millimetre weapon and opened fire directly at the two private security guards, who were shot and killed directly at the scene,” Rosenfeld said. 

“He also opened fire to a border police officer that was also located here. 

“And another two officers, that were standing approximately where we are at the moment, responded, opened fire and shot and killed that terrorist.”

A man believed to be a relative of a security guard killed reacts to the news of the shooting attack.AAP

Work permits under review

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service identified the gunman as Nimer Aljamal, a 37-year-old father of four from the nearby Palestinian village of Beit Surik with no previous “security background”.

Rosenfeld described Aljamal’s profile as “very unusual” by comparison with others who have carried out lone-wolf attacks during a wave of unrest that has hit Israel and the Palestinian territories over the past two years.

He said there would have to be a security review of work permits for Palestinians to work in Israel and the settlements, with thousands granted.

Netanyahu called on the Palestinian president to condemn the attack.

“I expect (Abbas) to condemn the attack and not try to justify it,” he said.

Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, hailed the attack as “revenge for the crime of occupation against our people.” 

The UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov condemned both the attack and the Hamas reaction.

“It is deplorable that Hamas and others continue to glorify such attacks, which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

Police named the border policeman killed as Solomon Gavria, 20.

Har Adar resident Steve Leibowitz, 65, said the settlement’s proximity to the Green Line had always made it feel safe.

“This place is quiet. We’re inside the West Bank but we have a border fence and we feel as though we are inside Israel and safe,” he told AFP. 

“Until today I haven’t locked my doors in years. Now I will be locking the doors.”

The latest attack comes nearly two years after a wave of unrest broke out.

The violence had greatly subsided in recent months but Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman warned in a briefing to the cabinet earlier this month that the risk of new attacks was ever present.

Israeli security forces and emergency services at the scene of a shooting attack at the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Har Adar in the West Bank.AAP

‘Reception for US envoy’

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the Palestinian leadership needed to take action or there would be no point in following up on the US initiative to relaunch peace talks.

“The terrible attack at Har Adar is the Palestinian reception for US envoy Jason Greenblatt,” she said.

Hotovely renewed the Israeli government’s call for the Palestinian Authority to stop paying allowances to the families of those who lost their lives carrying out attacks.

The issue is a deeply divisive one, with many Palestinians seeing those killed carrying out attacks against the “occupation forces” as martyrs, while Israelis see them as “terrorists”.

West Bank settlements are a source of significant tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and have been a major sticking point in peace talks.

The UN envoy told the Security Council on Monday that Israel continues to build settlements “at a high rate,” in defiance of Security Council demands for an end to their expansion. 

The international community regards all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, as illegal.

They are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

 

 

 

Myanmar refugees to Bangladesh at 480,000

The number of refugees arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar since August 25 has risen to 480,000, international aid bodies say.

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The refugees are fleeing a Myanmar military offensive launched in response to about 30 co-ordinated attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on August 25.

“The change in the new arrivals figure … is due, in large part, to the additional estimated 35,000 new arrivals settling in the two refugee camps, which was not reported in the last situation report,” the Inter-Sector Co-ordination Group of aid agencies said in a statement.

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch says Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity, calling for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.

The UN refugee agency called for a redoubling of international aid for the refugees – 60 per cent of them children.

A Myanmar government spokesman rejected the accusation of crimes against humanity, saying there was no evidence.

Myanmar has also rejected UN accusations that its forces are engaged in ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in response to co-ordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on the security forces on August 25.

Refugees arriving in Bangladesh have accused the army and Buddhist vigilantes of trying to drive Rohingya out of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

“The Burmese military is brutally expelling the Rohingya from northern Rakhine state,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“The massacres of villagers and mass arson driving people from their homes are all crimes against humanity.”

North Korea tortured our son, say parents

The parents of a young Ohioan who was detained in North Korea for more than a year and died soon after being released said he was “jerking violently,” howling, and “staring blankly” when he returned home on a medical flight.

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Fred and Cindy Warmbier appeared on Fox News amid an escalating war of words between the Trump administration and North Korea.

A North Korean official has claimed President Donald Trump has, in effect, declared war, which the White House denied.

Otto Warmbier’s father said they wanted to speak out about his condition after hearing North Korea claiming to be a victim that’s being picked on.

“North Korea is not a victim. They’re terrorists,” Warmbier said.

“They kidnapped Otto. They tortured him. They intentionally injured him. They are not victims.”

The parents described the condition his family found him in when they went aboard an air ambulance that arrived June 13 in Cincinnati.

They said Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, was howling, making an “involuntary, inhuman sound,” “staring blankly into space jerking violently,” and was blind and deaf with his head shaved.

Fred Warmbier said his mouth “looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

Fred Warmbier said Otto’s mother and sister ran off the plane at the initial sight of him.

“We weren’t prepared … no mother, no parent should ever have gone through what we went through,” Cindy Warmbier said.

She said it was “inexcusable” that her son had been alone in captivity for so long with no one to comfort him. She said she “got it together” and stayed with him after his arrival.

President Trump tweeted about the family’s appearance, calling it “a great interview” and that: “Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

Fred Warmbier also said Otto had a large scar on his right foot and a high fever.

He died less than a week after returning at University of Cincinnati Medical Centre.

North Korea has denied mistreating the youth, sentenced to 15 years of hard labour in March 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster.

Townsend grabs his chance at AFL level

Timing your run perfectly.

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It’s working for Richmond, who finished the home-and-away season with rollicking wins over Fremantle and St Kilda, broke a 16-year finals duck with triumphs over Geelong and GWS and are now just one win away from a first premiership in 37 years.

On an individual level, Jacob Townsend looks to have got the timing nailed too.

As the 2017 campaign ticked into mid-August without him having added to a tally of 32 senior games spread over six seasons with the Giants and the Tigers, Townsend feared the end was near, especially as he was about to come out of contract.

It’s not as though he was playing poorly, as proved when he won the JJ Liston Trophy as the VFL’s best and fairest player.

It’s just that Townsend couldn’t find a way into a senior team enjoying solid form and a blessed run on the injury front.

Then Josh Caddy went down with a hamstring injury in round 21.

All of a sudden, Richmond needed someone to fill Caddy’s role as a medium-sized marking option in attack to support Jack Riewoldt.

They turned to the 187cm Townsend, who had spent plenty of time playing forward in his junior days but whose meagre goals tally at the time read just four from 32 AFL matches.

It proved to be a master-stroke.

Hauls of six and five majors against the Dockers and the Saints ensured that Townsend held his spot for the finals even when Caddy was fit to return.

And even though his scoreboard return has not been nearly as pronounced in the finals, Townsend has had an impact as a defensive forward – a role he could well be asked to reprise against Adelaide’s Jake Lever on Saturday.

“The defensive forward’s role is a tough one,” Townsend told AAP.

“You can’t just go out there and not get the ball.

“You have to make your opponent accountable.

“The focus is to go to him first as a starting point and then when the ball comes into the forward line to try and play your natural game.”

Another focus for Townsend has been not to pile the pressure on himself when he finally broke back into the senior team.

“Pretty much my whole AFL career I’ve been sort of the last one picked and the first one out,” he said.

“When I found out I was playing against Freo I didn’t really think about it as an AFL game.

“I just went out there and almost pretended I was playing in the VFL and tried to continue that form.”

Tigers AFL great Richardson lauds Riewoldt

Richmond’s mosquito fleet may have stolen the limelight but Jack Riewoldt deserves credit for helping to lift the Tigers into the AFL grand final.

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That’s the assessment of Tigers great Matthew Richardson, who will present the premiership cup to skipper Trent Cotchin should Richmond defeat Adelaide at the MCG on Saturday.

The bold decision to play Riewoldt for much of the year as a lone tall target in an unusually small forward line has paid off handsomely, with the Tigers reaching the grand final for the first time in 35 years.

It has also forced the club’s eight-time leading goal kicker to add new strings to his bow.

The dual Coleman Medallist has focused heavily on providing opportunities for eye-catching small forwards Daniel Rioli, Dan Butler and Jason Castagna, who have largely flourished despite their inexperience.

Richardson, who booted 800 goals during a glittering career at Punt Road, said his key-forward successor had carried a heavy load for the Tigers.

“Jack’s been amazing this year,” Richardson said on Tuesday.

“He’s played a role where he’s had to be the sole tall forward and it’s taken a lot of energy, I’d say, with the contests that he has to get to and bring (the ball) to ground.

“He’s had a really good year, he’s kicked 50 goals again. You talk about his team-play – he’s been outstanding this year.

“Some of the goals he creates with his little tap-ons and just his footy smarts – he’s a really smart footballer, Jack, and he’s played a really big role in that forward line.”

Riewoldt was kept quiet during the Tigers’ huge preliminary final win over Greater Western Sydney, finishing with eight disposals, two marks and a goal.

But the 28-year-old was happy to take a back-seat so long as his side came away with the win.

“My role is completely different to what it has been in the past,” Riewoldt said.

“Although I probably didn’t have the kicks, marks and handballs, I like to think that I led from the front.

“I just tried to keep those younger guys in the game and provide them with (opportunities for) their strengths, which is getting the ball to ground.”

Kepu wants more from Wallabies’ scrum

Australia might have fixed their scrum issues against Argentina but veteran prop Sekope Kepu says they can’t afford to rest on their laurels as they brace for another brutal set-piece battle with South Africa.

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Tighthead Kepu led a vastly improved Wallabies scrum as they prevailed 45-20 over Los Pumas in Canberra in their last start.

But a week earlier they were troubled by the Springboks, who rolled off the back of a number of scrum penalties to surge from 20-10 down and secure a draw in Perth.

“We took the foot off the throat a little bit,” Kepu said ahead of Sunday morning’s (AEST) clash in Bloemfontein.

“I felt in that first half we did well to put some pressure on them and I think we were a bit unlucky with some of those decisions.

“It’s the challenge of finishing teams and nullifying those little issues before it actually happens.

“We spoke about all those things and worked on it against Argentina… (but) there’s still improvement there and by no means are we happy with that.

“Now again, it’s back to the Boks.

“We’ve got to fix what we didn’t do in the second half.”

Set piece is traditionally South Africa’s biggest strength but surprisingly, they have the Rugby Championship’s least effective scrum after four rounds.

Kepu said those statistics were deceiving, insisting it held up well against the All Blacks despite copping a 57-0 belting in Albany.

“This season in particular, they’ve put a lot of teams to the sword,” he said.

Kepu scored a try in Australia’s late onslaught against Argentina, the fourth time he has crossed the white stripe in his Test career.

It pulled him level with Ben Alexander as the Wallabies’ top try-scoring prop in history.

“The last one on the weekend was purely the work from our fellow front-rowers,” Kepu said.

“They clean passed the ball and I actually saw it there and accelerated like it was a bar of chocolate.

“Noone (was) there so I knew I had to get the try or else I was in trouble because I was by myself.”

Phipps hails Australia’s "main man" Foley

Nick Phipps has paid a glowing tribute to Bernard Foley’s leadership skills and standard-bearing role as the Wallabies vice-captain prepares to notch his 50th Test cap.

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Five-eighth Foley will reach the milestone in Sunday morning’s (AEST) Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in Bloemfontein.

His long-time offsider at the NSW Waratahs and in the Test team, halfback Phipps said the 28-year-old has matured and developed into one of the team’s most important figures.

Foley has been the most vocal player at Australia’s training base in Johannesburg this week, barking out instructions and keeping his teammates on their toes – and Phipps said it was having a huge impact.

“To be honest, my fondest memories (of Foley) would be the last two years, mainly this year,” Phipps said.

“He said at the start of the year he wants to be a better leader and the way he’s been able to slip into that role as vice-captain and really start to lead the team around – that maturity he’s developed over the last few years – has really enabled him to be our main guy, our main man.

“(He’s) the guy that’s calling the shots and really being hard and strong on the style we want to play.

“It’s great to see him reaping the rewards of that at the moment.”

Phipps is likely to retain his spot on the bench as back-up to Will Genia for the match against the Springboks at the Free State Stadium.

It will be an important gig in light of the lung-busting nature of rugby on the Highveld and one Phipps said he was relishing.

“I think that’s one of Michael Cheika’s biggest things,” he said.

“He wants those reserves, those finishers to come on the field and really add that spark and energy.

“It’s something we’re quite proud of, our bench – we want to try and be one of the best benches in the world to be able to close out a game or get us back into it.

“Especially (with) a lot of our newer players coming in off the bench, (to) give them that guidance is something that I really enjoy doing.

“Cheik’s had a good chat with me, that’s the role I can fulfil at the moment.”

Ogilvy backs Scott to lead from the front

Internationals assistant captain Geoff Ogilvy believes Adam Scott’s desperation to end his Presidents Cup hoodoo could be the push the Internationals need to finally get over the line.

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In his eighth Cup appearance, equalling Vijay Singh and Ernie Els as the most capped Internationals, Scott is seen as the spiritual leader for the underdogs.

But the 37-year-old Australian is yet to taste victory at the biennial teams event, with a tie on his Cup debut in 2003 preceding six consecutive defeats at the hands of the Americans.

Scott produced a spirited performance in the Sunday singles at the 2015 Cup, thrashing American star Rickie Fowler 6-and-5, but the Internationals lost by one point in Korea.

Former US Open winner Ogilvy said countryman Scott is determined to end the American dynasty.

“Nobody wants to win the Presidents Cup more than Scotty; he’s seen more defeats than anyone and he’s very, very fired up,” Ogilvy told AAP on Tuesday.

Captain Nick Price said Scott’s passion would be essential to the Internationals’ hopes of defeating an American teamed lined with big guns such as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.

“He’s more of a motivator than anything else. Adam is usually a very quiet guy but when he does speak, it is with such conviction, intent and passion that they listen,” said Price.

“You need that inspiration because you can take a team without a whole lot of superstars, that has a lot of team spirit, and they can overcome just about anything.”

Scott endured a winless 2017 season and didn’t feature in the majors other than a tie for ninth at the Masters.

But a respectable year saw him record nine top-15 finishes from 16 events.

The Queensland native and wife Marie welcomed their second child, Byron, on the Gold Coast in August before Scott made a late dash to Boston for the second FedEx Cup play-offs event, where he missed the cut and was bundled out of the US PGA Tour’s post-season.

Ogilvy, who played for the Internationals on three occasions, is confident Scott will arrive with good form following another three week break in Australia.

“Scotty is such a class act and he’s always been great coming off a break. He’ll hit the ground running,” said Ogilvy.

Price added: “”(Expecting) a second child, it’s a huge thing in anyone’s life. Now that’s over I think Adam is ready to go and play golf. There’s no doubt,” said Price.

The Presidents Cup will be held at New Jersey’s Liberty National golf course, starting September 28.

Iraq PM, Kurdish chief in war of words over independence vote

Abadi said in Baghdad, a staunch opponent of the Kurdish move, that he would not negotiate on the back of the referendum result — expected to be a resounding “yes”.

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But in Kurdish regional capital Arbil, Barzani in a televised address urged the Iraqi premier “not to close the door to dialogue because it is dialogue that will solve problems”.

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“We assure the international community of our willingness to engage in dialogue with Baghdad,” he said.

“The referendum is not to delimit the border (between Kurdistan and Iraq), nor to impose it de facto,” Barzani added.

72 hour deadline

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday gave authorities in Kurdistan 72 hours to give the central government control of airports, a day after the autonomous region voted on independence.

Speaking at a news conference, Abadi said his government would ban “international flights to and from Kurdistan” in three days unless the airports are placed under its control.

Two airports operate in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, at regional capital Arbil and in second city Sulaimaniyah.

The Kurdish referendum went ahead despite both Iraqi and international opposition.

Big ‘yes’

Iraq’s Kurds were Tuesday expecting the announcement of a big “yes” vote for independence, as authorities in Baghdad weighed how to respond to a referendum they considered illegal.

Large numbers turned out in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region for Monday’s vote, which went ahead despite fierce objections from Baghdad, Turkey and Iran.

Votes were still being counted on Tuesday, with results expected by the end of the day and no doubt of an overwhelming outcome in favour of independence.

The vote is non-binding and will not lead automatically to independence, but is seen by the Kurds as a major step towards a long-cherished dream of statehood.

In the regional capital Arbil, a night of fireworks, flag-waving and dancing in the streets followed the vote.

“We made a Kurdish state today,” Arbil resident Ahmad told AFP during the celebrations.

“We’re Kurdish people, we’re not Arab, we’re not Persian, we’re no one else… We’re Kurds and we’ll remain Kurds forever.”

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The referendum took place peacefully, but has increased tensions between the Iraqi Kurds and their neighbours, raising fears of potential unrest.

Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared before the vote that he would take “necessary measures” to protect the country’s unity and he was due to address parliament on Wednesday.

Iraqi lawmakers voted on Tuesday to send troops to disputed areas where the referendum took place but there have been no signs of a deployment so far.

Turkey warns of ‘ethnic war’

Analysts say Baghdad is deeply concerned by the vote but unlikely to seek a confrontation with the Kurds for now, especially as Iraqi forces continue to battle the Islamic State group in its final bastions.

Turkey, concerned the vote will stoke the separatist ambitions of its own sizeable Kurdish population, repeatedly condemned the vote as wrong-headed and dangerous.

On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the Iraqi Kurds and their longtime leader Massud Barzani risked sparking an “ethnic war”.

“If Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

Erdogan warned on polling day that Turkey would shut its border with Iraqi Kurdistan and threatened to block key exports that flow from the region through Turkish territory.

He even suggested the possibility of a cross-border incursion similar to the one Turkish forces have carried out against IS and Kurdish fighters in Syria.

The vote took place in across the three northern provinces of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan — Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk — as well as in disputed border zones such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

0:00 Iraqi Kurds defy Baghdad in historic independence vote Share Iraqi Kurds defy Baghdad in historic independence vote   

Kirkuk curfew lifted

A curfew was lifted early Tuesday on parts of the city of Kirkuk, where it had been imposed on the city centre and non-Kurdish neighbourhoods due to fears of unrest connected with the vote.

An AFP journalist saw heavy traffic and shops opening as normal in the city of about one million, which is outside the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan and divided between Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen populations.

Officials reported that turnout for the referendum stood at 72 percent, with 3.3 million of the 4.58 million registered voters taking part.

Participation was lower in some parts of the region and was at only 50 percent in Sulaimaniyah province, the home base of political forces opposed to Barzani.

Barzani’s opponents have accused the longtime regional chief of seeking to empower himself through the vote and said he should have accepted a UN-backed plan to put off the referendum in favour of negotiations with Baghdad.

The United Nations and United States urged Barzani to cancel or postpone the vote, with Washington especially concerned it could hamper the fight against IS in which Kurdish peshmerga forces have been vital.

Some five million Kurds took to the polls across three provinces in the historic independence referendum.AAP

Largest stateless people

Issam al-Fayli, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said he didn’t expect any immediate confrontations.

“The Iraqi government will take its time to make decisions, taking special account of the opinions of military leaders because the current priority for Iraq is the war against Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic name for IS.

“There will be some minor incidents but the crisis should in the end remain under control.”

Turkey was also likely to remain cautious, said Dana Nawzar Jaf, a researcher on Middle East politics at Durham University in England.

“Turkey right now is not willing to cause a collapse of the KRG. The KRG represents a buffer zone between Turkey and Iran and represented Turkey’s strongest ally in Iraq,” he said.

Iran, which like Turkey has a large and restless Kurdish population, also opposed the referendum and on Sunday announced it was blocking all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan at Baghdad’s request.

Left without a state of their own when the borders of the Middle East were redrawn after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people.

The non-Arab ethnic group number between 25 and 35 million people spread across Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.