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Iraq: Shi'ites Gathering In Karbala For Pilgrimage Climax

Karbala, Iraq; 23 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's long-oppressed religious majority gathered in the holy city of Karbala today for the climax of a pilgrimage that had been banned by Saddam Hussein. Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims -- who represent 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people -- traveled from throughout the country for the pilgrimage. The event commemorates the death of the seventh-century Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Yesterday, some crowds in Karbala were denouncing the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

At the United Nations, France yesterday proposed the immediate suspension of nonmilitary UN sanctions against Iraq and an adjustment of the UN program that uses oil revenues to pay for humanitarian aid to suit current needs.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, speaking in Ankara, said sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible. "We need to take into account a new situation after the war. We believe that, of course respecting the international legality, we should as fast as possible try to lift these [UN] sanctions," he said.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, said the United States will work with France on how to achieve the lifting of sanctions.