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Meet on Iraq urges free elections
November 23, 2004 20:04 IST
Iraq's salvation lay in making the election successful and ensuring that all reasonable forces take part, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait told delegates at the opening session of the conference at the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh.
In his opening remarks, Ghait said the Israeli-Arab conflict was as much a threat to the region as the insurgency in Iraq. ''Efforts to achieve stability in Iraq cannot be separated from strenuous efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East,'' he said.
The conference brings together about 20 foreign ministers, including from nations which opposed the invasion Iraq last year.
"As we approach the elections, every effort must be made to provide incentives for the various Iraqi groups to participate in a national reconciliation process," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
A statement released before the conference urged the Iraqi government to convene meetings of as many political groups as possible before the elections and encourage full participation.
This follows threats by Arab Sunni outfits to boycott the elections, which they perceive as an American attempt to impose a puppet regime on Iraq. The Association of Muslim Scholars has already called for a boycott Sunday.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the ongoing military campaign against insurgents in Mosul and Fallujah was meant to create a conducive climate for the elections.
''We must guarantee that all sectors of the Iraqi electorate have an equal chance to cast their vote free from intimidation, terror and fear spread by an extreme minority a lethal mix of Saddamists, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs.''
His government was committed to holding ''full, free and fair elections across the country for the first time in our history,'' he said.
But to ensure this, Iraqis "had to feel a sense of ownership" said French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. France has been one of the strongest opponents of the invasion of Iraq.
"We are determined to make a success of the general elections. They must be held across the country, in all fairness and be open to all those components of Iraqi society which accept the rules of democracy," he said.
"Hostility towards foreign troops leads many Iraqis to distance themselves from the process. It is therefore vital to recall this deadline and state clearly that Iraqis will have full mastery over their country's affairs, including over security and military issues," Barnier said.
But French efforts to get a firm date on troop withdrawal by the US and Britain have been in vain so far.
The UN resolution, passed by the Security Council in June, says the mandate for the troops expires 31 December 2005.