01/30/2005, 00.00
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Bishop of Basra: "Today we can start hoping again"

In this southern Iraqi city, 70% of the population has already voted in a climate of joy and optimism.

Basra (AsiaNews) -- It is an "exciting" day for Basra, "elections are everything; from this point, we can start hoping again".  Monsignor Djibrail Kassab, Chaldean Archbishop of Basra (southern Iraq), told AsiaNews of how happy the city's inhabitants are, just a few hours from the opening of polling stations for the first free elections in post-Saddam Iraq.  "Everyone is going to vote," the bishop said, "Christians and Muslims are going with their families to the voting stations and, when they got back, many told me that they were happy and optmistic. 

So far, about 70% of the population has voted". There were two minor explosions in as many voting stations today in Basra, but "people are still going to vote".  The bishop said the situation is generally calm: various members of the faithful told him that they had been "suprised by the efficiency and organization of the polling stations". 

Like his fellow citizens, Msgr Kassab will go to vote but first celebrated Sunday Mass in a church that was "almost empty" due to security measures that have been causing some traffic problems.  "We prayed for peace and democracy; we did so in the past, are doing so today, and will continue in the future".  "Christians, like all Iraqis, want nothing more than a government, a constitution, democracy". 

"We pray and continue to hope for democracy, which can only be guaranteed by these elections.  As of tomorrow, our hope in peace and stability, so vital to all Iraqis, will be even greater. (MA)

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