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Washington, 16 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The top U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, is in Washington today for talks with President George W. Bush. The talks come after tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated yesterday in the southern city of Al-Basrah.

Protesters called for the country's new authorities to be chosen in direct elections, rather than selected indirectly as the United States is proposing.

Opposition to the U.S. plan has been spearheaded by Iraq's leading Shi'a cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Bremer has said he respects al-Sistani but that there is not enough time to hold elections before a hand over of power now scheduled to take place on 30 June.

Yesterday, the head of the U.S. handpicked Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, told reporters any delay in handing over power could cause "deep frustration" amongst Iraqis. "We stick to the date of 30 June [to elect a transitional government] because we think that any postponement or delay in the handing over of power and restoration of sovereignty will cause a deep frustration for the Iraqi people, and I don't think anybody wants to bear this responsibility," he said.

The U.S. State Department said it considered yesterday's demonstrations in Al-Basrah to be "fundamentally, a good thing," adding that it took the people's feelings seriously.
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