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Fistfights at polling station for Iraqis in Australia

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.boston.com/dailynews/029/world/Scuffles_break_out_at_Australi:.shtml Scuffles break out at Australia polling station as Iraqis abroad line up for a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2005
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      http://www.boston.com/dailynews/029/world/Scuffles_break_out_at_Australi:.shtml

      Scuffles break out at Australia polling station as
      Iraqis abroad line up for a second day of voting

      By Ed Johnson, Associated Press, 1/29/2005 17:38

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      LONDON (AP) Fistfights broke out at an Australian
      polling station for Iraqis abroad Saturday when a
      group of Islamic extremists chanted slogans against
      those casting ballots, while Iraqis around the world
      voted for a second day in their homeland's election.

      The scuffle was the first report of trouble to mar
      polling that began a day earlier under tight security,
      allowing Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries to cast
      absentee ballots for Iraq's first democratic election
      in half a century.

      Most Iraqis were enthusiastic as they lined up at the
      ballot boxes, even turning out in the hundreds in the
      Jordanian town of Zarqa, the hometown of Iraq's most
      feared terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
      election officials said.

      ''I learned from my parents about past bitter days in
      my homeland and I voted in the hope of replacing that
      with a brighter future,'' said Ahmad Abai, 21, casting
      his ballot in the Iranian capital, Tehran, where he
      was born to Iraqi parents.

      Some complained of low turnout after less than a
      quarter of the estimated 1.2 million expatriate Iraqis
      eligible to vote worldwide registered to do so, but
      those who did sign up were thrilled with the
      opportunity.

      Many Iraqis drove hundreds of miles to reach the five
      U.S. cities with polling places: Nashville, Tenn.,
      Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.

      The low numbers of registrants were attributed to a
      shortage of registration and polling places, fears of
      violence or reprisals from Iraq's violent insurgency
      and lack of documentation.

      ''It is a shame, for me it is very depressing,'' said
      Hashim Ali of the Iraqi Community Association in
      Britain, where 30,961 of the estimated 150,000 Iraqis
      eligible to vote had registered. ''These are great
      days for Iraqi people. I feel let down by the Iraqi
      community in the U.K..''

      Election organizers said just under a third of
      registered Iraqi expatriates cast ballots on Friday
      and that number apparently had more than doubled by
      Saturday. Expatriate balloting continues Sunday, the
      same day as elections in Iraq.

      The Geneva-based International Organization for
      Migration, which is conducting the expatriate vote for
      the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said
      84,429 of the 280,303 registered Iraqis cast ballots
      on Friday.

      By late Saturday, more than two-thirds of the
      registered voters had cast ballots, IOM spokeswoman
      Sarah Tosh said in Amman, Jordan, but she did not have
      an exact figure or breakdown for Saturday.

      Underscoring security concerns, protesters in
      Australia, identified by ballot organizers as Wahhabis
      followers of an austere brand of Sunni Islam suspected
      of having influence over militants in Iraq yelled
      insults at voters.

      Some 50 people scuffled after the protesters began
      taking photographs of the poll, being conducted in a
      neighborhood dominated by Iraqi Shiites, organizers
      said, forcing the polling station to close for an
      hour. No injuries were reported.

      ''This is scary for the people, taking photos of the
      voting,'' said Thair Wali, an Iraqi adviser for the
      International Organization for Migration.

      IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said no other
      violence had been reported at the international
      polling centers.

      In Norway, a fleet of buses transporting about 4,000
      Iraqis left Oslo bound for polling stations in
      Goteborg in southern Sweden, 200 miles away. More than
      31,000 others living in Sweden also have registered to
      vote.

      In Denmark, the line for the polling station in the
      Copenhagen suburb of Taastrup stretched for 700 yards,
      despite below freezing temperatures. About 4,000
      Iraqis voted in Denmark on Friday and another 5,000
      cast ballots Saturday, organizers said.

      Turnout also was brisk in the Jordanian capital,
      Amman, where poles and building walls were plastered
      with campaign posters, although that was tempered by
      dozens of nostalgic Iraqis who around a downtown
      kiosk, singing patriotic songs and watching video
      clips of Saddam Hussein when he was in power.

      Many said they longed for the security imposed by the
      ousted regime, glossing over the repression and
      brutality that came with it.

      Thousands of Iraqis turned up at polls in Iran, which
      had the highest proportion of registered voters, amid
      tight security.

      A third of those registered in Syria voted Friday, and
      the flow was even higher Saturday, officials said. But
      many Iraqis turned up without having registered,
      leading to arguments and disappointment.

      Voters will select the 275-seat National Assembly that
      will appoint a new government for Iraq and draft a
      permanent constitution. To be eligible, voters must be
      born in Iraq or have an Iraqi father, and have turned
      18 on or before Dec. 31.

      When voting concludes on Sunday, all the overseas
      counts will be sent in to the operation's headquarters
      in Amman, which will forward them on to Baghdad. The
      results will be announced several days later.

      Associated Press writers Meraiah Foley in Sydney,
      Australia; Salah Nasrawi in Amman, Jordan; Sam Cage in
      Geneva; Zeina Karam and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria;
      and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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