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Assyrians, Turkomen, Yazidis Protest Outside Green Zone

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) --- Hundreds of Iraqis shouted slogans and waved Iraqi flags Sunday outside Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone to protest alleged irregularities they say prevented tens of thousands of people in Mosul from voting in last weekend's landmark elections.

The demonstrators were mainly Iraqi Christians, Turkomen and Yazidis -- members of a small religion in the north -- who say polling centers never opened in their neighborhoods in the turbulent northern city and surrounding Ninevah province.

Electoral commission officials in Baghdad have acknowledged that many polling sites never opened Jan. 30 or opened late because of what they said were security concerns. Some sites that opened could not be supplied with ballots and other election materials, officials have said.

A team of independent lawyers is investigating those and other complaints in the city and will report back to the electoral commission.

"We are protesting because we have been deprived of our right to participate in the elections," said Shameil Benjamin, a member of a Christian party called the Democratic Assyrian Movement. "There were irregularities and we felt that the injustice was inflicted on us."

A spokesman for Chaldean and Assyrian parties, William Warda, said the irregularities prevented 200,000 people from voting.

The demonstrators gathered outside the Green Zone, which houses the offices of the interim Iraqi government as well as the U.S. and British embassies. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq also is based inside the compound.

Banners held aloft read, "Assyrians, Turkomens, Yazidis have the right to enjoy the essence of freedom," and "We demand our democratic rights and we reject marginalization."

Mosul has become a flashpoint for insurgents battling U.S. and Iraqi security forces in recent weeks. In November, rebels launched an uprising there that forced nearly the entire police force to desert their posts.


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