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Thousands Protest In Al-Basrah For Elections

Baghdad, 15 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Tens of thousands of Shiite Iraqis today took to the streets in Iraq's southern city of Al-Basra to support a call for general elections.

They answered a call by Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to reject plans for an appointed interim Iraqi government to take power.

But in Baghdad today, the current rotating president of Iraq's Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, said an agreement between the U.S.-led coalition and the council to transfer power to an interim Iraqi government through a transitional assembly by 30 June should be observed.

"We stick to the date of June 30 [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."

Pachachi said failure by Iraqi leaders to agree on how to choose a new government could postpone the end of the U.S. military occupation for another two years.

Under the current agreement, the transitional assembly would be selected by regional caucuses rather than general elections.

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