At least 23 people have been killed during a raid by Iraqi security forces on a Sunni Muslim protest camp near Kirkuk.
Dozens more were left injured after a gunbattle reportedly erupted between troops and demonstrators, intensifying the country’s sectarian tensions.
The clashes are the worst since thousands of Sunni Muslims started staging protests in December to demand an end to perceived marginalisation of their sect by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government.
Iraq’s defence ministry said troops opened fire after coming under attack from gunmen in the makeshift camp.
Iraqi military sources claim troops found rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles, AK-47 guns and other weapons at the camp.
But protest leaders said they were unarmed when security forces stormed in and started shooting early in the morning.