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France hails importance of Iraq election

Published on 31/01/2005

PARIS, Jan 31 (AFP) - The Iraqi elections were "a first important step" for democracy in the country, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Monday, but added that other steps must follow, including the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops.

The elections “were a victory for the Iraqi people and a first important step, which is indispensable for democracy and for the political process that we want to see and towards which we – I’m speaking of the international community – have been working for months,” he told France’s Europe 1 radio station.

He hailed “the courage of the Iraqi people” in going to the polls and said elections were the only way to put an end to the violence gripping Iraq.

But, he added, “there are other steps that must happen soon, right away,” notably the drafting and adoption of a constitution that upholds the rights of all Iraq’s ethnic communities, more elections and “the withdrawal of foreign troops so the Iraqi people can regain their sovereignty.”

“Frankly, the Americans want to exit this tragedy, this situation where their soldiers are dying,” Barnier said.

“I won’t go back over the reasons for the conflict, this war. Everybody knows the positions, notably that of France…. We don’t regret anything. We said what we believed and we are looking straight ahead,” he said.

Barnier said the world wanted to see “this tragedy and other tragedies” resolved, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He added that he would be making a trip next week to see the Israeli and Palestinian leaders Ariel Sharon and Mahmud Abbas.

Earlier, the French government had hailed Iraq’s first free elections in half a century as a “great success for the international community” and called the surprisingly high voter turnout “good news”.

“France never stopped saying, in unison with the international community, that this was a crucial step,” government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told Europe 1 radio after polling stations had closed in Iraq.

He praised the Iraqi people for showing up en masse to cast their ballots for a 275-member national assembly, saying that pushing back the elections amid the ongoing bloodshed “would not have resolved the problems”.

Iraqi electoral commission member Adel al-Lami said the expected turnout was around eight million voters – or roughly 60 percent of the country’s 14 million registered voters.

When asked if the polls constituted a victory for the administration of US President George W. Bush, Cope called the elections “a great success for the international community” that backed the process.

The government of French President Jacques Chirac spearheaded opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, and has repeatedly ruled out sending any troops to the violence-wracked country.

When asked about a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, Cope said a UN Security Council resolution had set the end of 2005 as the withdrawal date.

“Now we have to see how things evolve and wait for definitive election results,” the government spokesman added.

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News