Baghdad, Iraq – Authorities in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region have pledged to provide financial support to university students, state media say after days of protests demanding reinstatement of a monthly stipend that was removed seven years ago.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) decision on Wednesday night came after several thousand protesters took to the streets of Sulaimaniyah for the fourth day in a row. Security forces fired live ammunition in the city’s Sara Square to disperse the crowd, injuring a student, local broadcaster NRT reported.

It was not immediately clear how much money the authorities were going to provide. Prior to 2014, the KRG offered students a monthly stipend of 60,000 to 100,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately $ 40 to $ 70). However, the allocation was later canceled, with authorities citing the budget allocated to the fight against the armed group ISIL (ISIS) and the global fall in oil prices.

With ISIL now largely defeated and the price of oil recovering, the students demanded resumption of payment.

“Legitimate right”

The protests that began on Sunday grew increasingly violent as the days went by, with security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as deploying water cannons, to disperse protesters who were blocking main roads in Sulaimaniyah. Protesters, meanwhile, threw stones and tear gas canisters at security forces and also set fire to several government buildings in the city.

Smaller-scale protests have also spread to other towns in the region, including Erbil, Halabja, Kalar and Koya. A demonstration of solidarity attended by a few dozen people was also held Tuesday evening in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

The hashtag #SulaymaniyahOppresses also started appearing on Twitter as people shared their frustrations at the government’s response to what they called “peaceful protesters.”

Police on Wednesday barred journalists from accessing Sulaimaniyah University, one of the main hotbeds of tension since the protests began. Security forces entered the field and fired tear gas at the students who remained on campus, according to an Al Jazeera reporter at the site. Police also beat protesters and journalists with electric batons, the reporter said.

“We are asking for our legitimate right which is the resumption of payment of our monthly stipends, but the Kurdish government is responding by deploying all these security forces and peshmerga,” Awin, a second year student at the Technical Institute, told Al Jazeera. of Sulaimaniyah. Wednesday, asking that only his first name be mentioned for fear of reprisals.

Awin insisted the protesters “were not creating chaos and violence” and said “it was the Kurdish security forces who were confronting the unarmed students”

The KRG did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Peshraw Hama Jan, assistant to the president of Sulaymaniyah University, said the institution has “always supported the legitimate rights of our students and their request for reinstatement of benefits is fully legitimate,” adding that they “stated their requests to the KRG Minister of Higher Education Aram Muhammed ”.

“We call on our students not to let some comrades diverge from peaceful protests to violence,” Hama Jan told Al Jazeera.

Some officials have also expressed support for the students in recent days.

Haval Abubaker, the governor of Sulaimaniyah province, wrote on Facebook on Monday that “the province supports the [students’] demands and is against violence and interference ”.

“The increasingly desperate youth”

The Kurdish region of Iraq has seen protests in recent years in areas dominated by both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two parties which have effectively enjoyed ‘a political and economic duopoly.

Although hailed as the development goal of the rest of Iraq, the region has a long history of corruption and financial mismanagement.

Lately he has also been in the international spotlight amid the continuing refugee crisis on the Belarus-Poland border. Many Iraqi Kurds have made the journey to Europe in recent weeks, with a number seeking better economic opportunities.

“Students came out to demand that their rights be granted, which is a very modest allowance, but they faced unjust forces,” Mustafa Khalid, a resident of Sulaimaniyah, told Al Jazeera.

“And everyone was surprised that we saw migrants at the borders of Belarus – that’s the reason,” he said.

Reacting to the news regarding the financial support, Khalid said: “We will have to see if these allocations materialize and that it is not just words.”

“But we also need to see the change in our education system and PUK thugs will be responsible for the attacks on peaceful protesters. “

Kamaran Palani, a researcher at the Middle East Research Institute, an Erbil-based think tank, wrote on Twitter that “the youth protests in Iraqi Kurdistan are a response and the result of their frustration.

“Without viable recourse to mechanisms that could enable young people to transform their predicament, young people are increasingly desperate and eager to resist in various forms.

Shawn Yuan reported from Baghdad, and Dana Taib Menmy reported from Sulaimaniyah.