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'Please exercise your democratic rights,' Annan tells Iraqis two days before polls

28 January 2005 Two days before Iraq holds its first free elections in a generation amid continuing violence and uncertainty, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on Iraqis to turn out in large numbers, cautioned insurgents against intimidating voters and pledged the world body's continuing help in the future.

"Elections are the best way to determine any country's future; please exercise your democratic rights on Sunday," he said in a videotaped pre-election message to the people of Iraq. "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."

"To those who seek to disrupt the democratic process, let me say that 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 added.

The elections are a crucial first step toward a new constitution and a free and stable Iraq, he said.

"At this important juncture in Iraq's political transition, I say to all Iraqis: come together to rebuild your country on democratic foundations," he declared. "To achieve that, 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 concluded.

The UN has been acting in an advisory and technical role to help the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) deliver credible and inclusive elections, disbursing more than $100 million from a UN Elections Trust Fund to help organize the vote and coordinating the assistance of the international community.

This includes tasks such as supporting the drafting of polling regulations, as well as facilitating the delivery of 3 million tons of election materials, including ballot boxes, ballots and specialized information technology equipment.

With a team of some 40 experts on the ground, led by Carlos Valenzuela, the UN has worked with the IECI and Iraqi officials to prepare, design and update the main voter register system and has trained senior officials in electoral and administrative work. It has also assisted an electoral observation project and media training for Iraqi journalists covering polling day activities.

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