Iraq extends Kurdistan international flight ban

Fireworks are set off as Kurds celebrate the close of polling on the independence referendum (AFP)

Iraqi authorities have extended through February an international flight ban slapped on the autonomous Kurdish region in response to a controversial independence vote, an airport official said Thursday.

Baghdad severed Iraqi Kurdistan's air links to the outside world in late September after it voted overwhelmingly for independence at a non-binding referendum rejected as illegal by the central government.

The flight ban was just part of a battery of punishment inflicted on the Kurds as Baghdad sought to nullify the poll, with federal forces also seizing disputed oil-rich regions in a major blow for their finances.

Talar Faiq Saleh, the director of the airport in Iraqi Kurdistan's capital Arbil, said the transport ministry in Baghdad had sent a message signalling that international flights were "banned until February 28".

"Only internal flights are authorised," she said.

The two-month extension sees Baghdad keeping up the pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan as the fallout from the failed independence push has battered its economy.

A spate of angry protests that have seen the offices of political parties torched in a string of towns has rocked the region this month.

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