UPDATE 1-Turkey’s border with northern Iraq remains open, for now, minister says |

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(Adds minister comments, background)

ANKARA, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Turkey’s border with northern Iraq remains open, although that does not mean it will remain so, the Turkish customs minister said on Wednesday, adding the number of trucks passing through had decreased.

Bulent Tufenkci also said he did not believe that the Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq would have a big impact on Turkish trade with Baghdad.

President Tayyip Erdogan has said Iraqi Kurds would go hungry if his country halts the flow of trucks and oil across the border, warning that Turkey could take military and economic measures against its neighbour after the referendum

“The Habur border gate is open for now, we see that the numbers of vehicles passing are decreased,” Tufenkci said, referring to the main border crossing with northern Iraq.

“The Habur border gate being open for now does not mean that it will remain open,” he said in comments broadcast live on television.

Turkey, home to the region’s largest Kurdish population, has been battling a three-decade insurgency in its largely Kurdish southeast and fears the referendum, held earlier this week, will inflame separatist tension at home.

“We can continue trading with the Iraqi central government through Iran or via sea or airways,” Tufenkci said.

Turkey has long been northern Iraq’s main link to the outside world, with a Turkish oil pipeline connecting northern Iraq to global energy markets. Iraq, including the Kurdish region, was Turkey’s third-largest export market in 2016, according to IMF data. Turkish exports to the country totalled $8.6 billion, behind Germany and the United Kingdom.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Dirimcan Barut; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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