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UN Secretary General Urges Iraqis to Vote

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging all Iraqis to vote in Sunday's election, calling it a "crucial first step" toward stability. In a taped message to the Iraqi people, Secretary-General Annan said elections offer the best way to determine the country's future. He urged Iraq's 14 million eligible voters to put aside the past and look to the future.

"Whatever your feelings about how the country reached this point, this election offers an opportunity to move away from violence and uncertainty toward peace and representative government," he said.

The secretary-general also spoke directly to insurgents trying to prevent the voting. "To those who seek to disrupt the democratic process, let me say there can never be justification for murder and intimidation of voters, candidates and election workers. Don't deny Iraqis who choose to vote their right to do so in freedom and safety," he said.

Mr. Annan has been slow to re-deploy international staff to Iraq after the August, 2003 attacks on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. The number of U.N. workers helping in election preparations was limited to a few dozen. But the secretary-general pledged the world body would offer more help after the election. "After these elections you will need a national dialogue and an inclusive political process in which as many Iraqis as possible play an active part. The United Nations will do whatever it can to help you succeed on election day and afterwards," he said.

Mr. Annan's taped message was released as he flew to Abuja, Nigeria for an African Union summit. A spokesman said there are no immediate plans to expand the U.N. presence in Iraq.