Iraqi Kurdish men show their ink-stained fingers after casting their vote in the referendum on independence at a polling station in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 25, 2017. (AFP PHOTO)
ERBIL, Iraq, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi Kurds on Monday ended their vote in a referendum that will determine the independence of the Kurdish region and the disputed areas amid threats and rejection from Baghdad and neighboring countries.
About 5.2 million eligible voters were entitled to cast ballots in 12,000 polling boxes in 2,000 polling centers, which was kicked off at 8 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and was supposed to close at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), but extended another hour to allow people queuing outside the polling centers to vote.
Queues were formed since early morning at many polling stations, and the regional President Masoud Barzani was one of the first to vote. The voters were asked to answer one question in the referendum; either "Yes" to independent Kurdish state or "No" to remain as autonomous region part of the Iraqi state.
According to the regional electoral committee, the results of the referendum will be announced within two or three days.
Officials sort ballot papers after the close of the polling station during Kurds independence referendum in Erbil, Iraq September 25, 2017. (REUTERS PHOTO)
The voting was held under security threats and tensions in the disputed areas, particularly in Kirkuk, where the provincial government announced overnight curfew in the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Kirkuk governor Najm al-Din Kareem called on the residents of Kirkuk to return to their homes after voting and avoid celebrations in the city.
"Those who have not voted in the referendum are not our enemy and we will not oppose them. People are free how they will vote in the referendum," the governor added.
The referendum was held despite intense international pressure on Barzani to halt the voting, amid fears that it would spark new conflicts with Baghdad and with neighboring Iran and Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Ankara would close its border with the Kurdish region in northern Iraq because of the independence referendum and threatened the Iraqi Kurds with blocking their key oil exports.
Iran reiterated its opposition to the Kurdish referendum in Iraq, underlining the need for maintaining Iraq's sovereignty at a time that Baghdad is making great successes in its fight against IS terrorist group.
Members of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) security forces, affiliated to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, keep watch in the streets of the northern city of Kirkuk, where control is disputed between the Kurds and the federal government in Baghdad, during the vote on the Kurdish independence on September 25, 2017. (AFP PHOTO)
Earlier in the day, the Iraqi parliament issued a package measures against the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan over its controversial referendum on independence.
The parliament demanded Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is the Commander-in-Chief of Iraqi forces, to redeploy the Iraqi security forces in the disputed areas outside the Kurdish region.
The parliament demanded the federal government to regain control of oil fields in the disputed areas to be under the control of the federal Oil Ministry.
Among other measures, the parliament also voted on blocking all the border crossing points in all directions, including between the region and the rest of Iraq, the channel said without giving further details about how to block the crossing points with Iran and Turkey.
The Iraqi government has repeatedly rejected the referendum and its results, describing it as "unconstitutional."
"Taking a decision unilaterally that would affect Iraq's unity and making separation from one side is contrary to the law and unconstitutional and we will not deal with it or with its results," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.
On June 7, the Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani announced his intention to hold a referendum on the independence of the Kurdish region from Iraq on Sept. 25.
The independence of Kurdistan is opposed by many countries because they said it would threaten the integrity of Iraq and it could undermine fight against Islamic State militants.
In addition, neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria see that such a step would threaten their territorial integrity, as larger populations of Kurds live in those countries.