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Iraqi Exiles in Britain Cast Votes, Express Hopes

Iraqi exiles in Britain are casting their absentee ballots on the final day of voting. The Wembley Conference Center in London is one of three locations in Britain where Iraqis can vote.

Election officials overseeing the Iraqi exile voting process in Britain say nearly 60 percent of all registered voters had cast ballots on Friday and Saturday, and they expected a last-minute rush to vote in London, Manchester and Glasgow.

In all, about 37,000 Iraqis registered to vote in Britain, a significantly smaller number than the 100,000 that had been expected to sign up. Some non-voters said it was inconvenient to travel long distances to register. Others said they had lived in exile for so long they no longer felt a tie to Iraq. And some said they oppose any elections as long as the U.S.-led multinational force operates in Iraq.

But those views are not heard around the voting center in Wembley. One of the poll workers, Ziryan Ismail said that after so many years of repression and violence in Iraq, he felt a duty to participate.

"It really is a mark of the beginning of Iraq, hopefully for a democratic Iraq, for a new beginning and for all the people who died for me to get here," he said.

Mr. Ismail says he hopes the election sends a message to the militants in Iraq that they cannot stop the force of democracy.

"I hope the turnout would be something to push people to know that we are Iraqis and we are here to stay and we will vote no matter what," said Mr. Ismail. "We are scared here as well, in case of any problems, but I'm still going to be doing it."

There have been some minor problems and arguments at the London absentee balloting center, primarily over language differences between Kurdish and Arabic speakers.

And handful of anti-vote demonstrators protested outside the Wembley center to denounce the balloting as unfair as long as foreign troops are in Iraq. Police say the demonstration went off without incident.