10/12/2004, 00.00
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Al Sistani urges Iraqis to register for voting

Najaf (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Iraq's top Shiite cleric is urging Iraqis to register to vote in the January elections, his office said Tuesday.

"All citizens eligible for voting, both males and females, should make that there names are correctly written in the electoral record," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in a statement released by his office in this Shiite holy city.

Al-Sistani called for the formation of popular committees to help people take part in the balloting "which we hope will take place on time and that it will be free and with the participation of all Iraqis."

Voters registration will start Nov. 1st and last for six weeks, according to the statement.

Al-Sistani, who has enormous influence among Iraq's majority Shiite community, has been supporting elections since the first weeks of the U.S. occupation. Some Sunni groups, however, have branded any election as bogus as long as American troops remain in the country.

No date has been set for the election, but a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted earlier this year says it must be held by Jan. 31. The election will be to choose a 275-member legislature, whose main task will be to draft a permanent constitution. If the voters ratify the document, it will provide the legal basis for a second general election by the end of next year. Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, are expected to dominate whatever government emerges. During the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein the Shia community had no power and  targeted by military repression.

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