01/28/2005, 00.00
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Expatriates vote in Iraqi election

Sidney (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Iraqis overseas have begun to vote in their country's general election, two days before the poll in Iraq itself.

Expatriates in Australia were the first among more than 280,000 people registered in 14 countries to start casting their ballots.

Sunday's vote will be supervised by as many as 120 international monitors, Iraqi officials say.

The head of Iraq's independent electoral commission has said a number of foreign embassies will provide staff to act as monitors.

About 12,000 Iraqis registered to vote in Australia - only about 15% of the estimated 80,000 eligible expatriates. There are elections centres in Sydney, Australia's biggest city, and others in the southern state of Victoria.

Many exiles decided not to participate amid fear of possible persecution against themselves and their relatives still living in Iraq, community leaders say. Some voters must travel vast distances - in some cases several thousands of kilometres - to have their say, correspondents say.

Among the first Iraqi expatriates to vote in Sydney was Rebwav Aziz, 38, who has lived in Australia for more than a decade. "If you want freedom you have to fight for it. I'm voting for democracy," he said, showing his finger that was stained with blue ink to show he had cast a ballot.  Another voter said the election was a dream that had finally come true.  

Iraqi nationals in Iran, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Turkey, the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden are due to vote later on Friday.

The expatriate vote is running from Friday to Sunday.

Sunni insurgents told Iraqis on Thursday to boycott the polls, a day after US President George W Bush urged voters to "defy the terrorists".

The militant Army of Ansar al-Sunna said in a statement that Iraqis who vote "will have only themselves to blame".
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