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Iraq's Abadi Rejects Calls for Election Rerun
By Mina Aldroubi

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said on Tuesday he rejects demands of fresh elections, warning that anyone who tries to sabotage the political process will be punished, as allegations of voter fraud threaten to undermine the country's democratic system.

Mr Al Abadi said only the Supreme Court could decide whether to re-run the ballot, which was won by Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's Sairoun bloc, after the parliament called for a nationwide recount of the votes.

The latest development comes after a warehouse storing ballot papers caught fire, an act described as a "plot" against democracy by Mr Al Abadi.

The premier called the fire a "deliberate act" and said the attorney general would bring charges against those who are trying to undermine the political process.

An Iraqi court ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site, state television reported.

Three of the arrested individuals were policemen and one an employee of the Independent High Elections Commission. The legislature also sacked the nine-member independent commission, which oversaw the polls, last week.

Iraqi authorities said the ballot boxes had been rescued, but the fire has fueled fears of violence.

Mr Al Abadi's statement comes as Iraq's UN envoy has called for an investigation into allegations of fraud and voter rigging. Jan Kubis on Tuesday urged the country's electoral bodies to "investigate and adjudicate all complaints of electoral fraud and violations, in a fully transparent way that promotes the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of its results, in line with the laws and Constitution of Iraq".

The UN envoy called on Iraqi politicians to "work together in support of the steps to address the complaints concerning the electoral process".

Mr Kubis' statement followed the fire at the ballot storage site in Baghdad's eastern district of Al Russafa, which added to the allegations of fraud and vote rigging. Firefighters brought it under control several hours.

The May 12 vote had a poor turnout of less than 45 per cent of eligible voters. In Baghdad, turnout was higher at 60 per cent.

The fire erupted as a new group of nine judges were appointed to supervise a manual vote recount ordered by Iraq's outgoing parliament.

State television reported on Monday that a court had ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site -- three policemen and an employee of the Independent High Election Commission.

News of the arrests came after Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem Al Araji said there was "no doubt that [the fire] was a deliberate act" aimed at destroying some of the votes cast.

"Election material, including maybe ballot boxes, were burnt, but most of the ballot boxes were stored in another building and have been preserved," Interior Ministry spokesman Gen Saad Maan said on Sunday.

Iraqi authorities said that none of the ballot papers were destroyed in the blaze.

Election winner Sadr on Monday called on Iraqis to unite rather than fight over the recount in a message aimed at unity following the fire.

Certain parties are trying to drag Iraq into civil war, he said, adding that he would not participate in one.

"Stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power, and rulership," he wrote in an article published by his office.

"Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction, instead of burning ballot boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?"


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