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Iraqi Christians Protest At Election Law

MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) -- Crowds of Iraqi Christians protested on Sunday against a newly approved provincial election law, saying the legislation failed to represent the interests of the minority community.

Protestors shouted slogans against Baghdad's Shiite-led government and against the law in the town of Al-Kosh near the restive northern city of Mosul, carrying Iraqi flags and banners that said "No! No! to dictatorship".

Last week, Iraq's parliament passed controversial legislation setting a January 31 deadline for elections in 14 provinces, excluding the three Kurdish provinces and the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

Leaders of Iraq's Christian community claim the law does not provide for their representation in the councils that would be formed after the vote.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged the election commission to ensure that the rights of minority communities are protected in the law.

"We are committed to guarantee a fair representation of all Iraqi components and defend their rights," he said in a statement issued by his office.

Iraq has around 400,000 Christians, a number that has shrunk in half since US-led forces invaded in 2003. The country also has other minority sects such as the Yazidis in the northern regions.

Sixty percent of Iraq's 27 million people are Shiite Muslims with Sunni Arabs and Kurds accounting for most of the remaining 40 percent.

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