10/06/2008, 00.00
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UN criticises Iraq’s new election law

UN special envoy hopes for the return of Article 50 which guarantees seats to ethnic and religious minorities in upcoming provincial council elections. Muslim community shows its solidarity to Kirkuk’s Christian community.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The UN special representative for Iraq Staffan de Mistura said he was “surprised and disappointed” that Iraq’s parliament dropped Article 50 when it approved a new provincial election law, a clause which was designed to protect minority rights by guaranteeing minorities a certain number of seats on provincial councils. In the first version of the bill 15 seats were set aside in six provinces for minorities, 13 for Christians and one each for Shabaks and Yazidis.

When the proposal came to a vote the article was left out because it was argued that it was impossible to determine the number of seats to be set aside for minorities since no census had been taken place to know their number.

Article 50 is fundamental for democracy and “should now be reinstated into the legislation as soon as possible so minorities can participate in the upcoming elections to be held sometime before 31 January 2009,” said the UN envoy.

“Article 50 is a strong indication Iraq is a nation ready to protect the political rights of minorities as founded in the constitution,” he added.

The UN envoy promised to continue consultations with Iraqi political leaders to ensure that the clause was reinserted into the election law by the Council of Representatives before 15 October, when the electoral commission opens nominations for candidates.

“Upbeat” about the country’s future, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani responded right away, saying that the election law will be changed to guarantee minority representation.

Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, said that the law “is not consistent with the constitution [which protects minorities], nor with what we feel is needed for Iraq.”

The president said the flow of refugees fleeing violence must be stopped and their “return home” guaranteed.

“We need to protect our minorities,” he added. “As president I have the right to amend what parliament passes and I can assure you that we will be amending the change in the law immediately.”

Elsewhere a delegation that included Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, Sunni and Shia representatives visited Kirkuk’s Chaldean Archbishop to express their solidarity to the Christian community, which has been targeted again for violence in Mosul and excluded from the country’s political process by the new election law. They met the archbishop of Kirkuk, Mgr Louis Sako, to whom they extended their support.

As political and religious leaders they reiterated that “Christians are a fundamental part of the country” and that their presence is necessary to the process of reconstruction if it is to bring “stable and lasting peace.”

Archbishop Sako thanked the delegates, expressing “his sincere gratitude” for the solidarity, adding that their gesture was “a token of the generosity of the Iraqi people” who are against divisions, conflicts and any new violence by Islamic fundamentalists.

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