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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Saddam 'wins 100% of vote'
Voters in Iraq's Najaf Province
Voting day brought many public displays of patriotism
Iraqi officials say President Saddam Hussein has won 100% backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years.

There were 11,445,638 eligible voters - and every one of them voted for the president, according to Izzat Ibrahim, Vice-Chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council.

Not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it

Ari Fleischer,
White House spokesman
The government insists the count was fair and accurate.

Saddam Hussein - who has ruled Iraq since 1979 - was the only candidate.

Voters had been urged to show their support for the Iraqi leader in defiance of the demands for military action against him from the US and Britain.

During polling, many voters trampled American flags and some signed their ballot-papers in their own blood in a display of loyalty to their leader.

International disdain

Before the vote, Washington dismissed the referendum as a farce after the last such vote gave the Iraqi leader 99.96% support.

"Obviously it's not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday.

Jack Straw (L) and Colin Powell in Washington
Argument over the UN's Iraq resolution has dragged on for weeks

In London, the Foreign Office painted a stark picture of the "choice" facing the Iraqi voters:

"You can't have free elections when the electorate goes to the polls in the knowledge that they have only one candidate, that candidate routinely murders and tortures opponents of the regime and the penalty for slandering that sole candidate is to have one's tongue cut out."

But Mr Ibrahim said Iraq's elections should not be compared to elections in Europe or America.

Iraq was in a situation comparable to the early history of Arab states, he said - in Iraq there is one destiny for the whole country.

If the Americans did attack, Iraq had taken precautions to defeat them, Mr Ibrahim said.

We're going to fight them in every village and every house - even the shepherd will have a role in the battle, he said.

Mr Ibrahim also accused Britain of deceiving Washington about Iraq. Britain knew Iraq very well, he said, and had misinformed the Americans.

Atmosphere of celebration

Tuesday's 12-hour-long voting was technically a secret ballot but few people bothered with the curtained booths - if only because they feared a "no" vote could be traced back to them.

Polling stations were bedecked with posters of Saddam, and biscuits and drinks were served as children performed patriotic songs.

Some of the few words of opposition to be heard on polling day came from the semi-autonomous Kurdish regions in the north.

A Kurdish man votes north of Baghdad
Iraq was keen to show that Kurds - not compelled to vote - also backed Saddam
Kurds were not required to vote and although state media showed pictures of some choosing to support Saddam, an opinion poll in Kurdish provinces found overwhelming opposition.

Hussein Sinjari of the Iraqi Institute for Democracy told the BBC's World Today programme that 94.5% of 3,500 people questioned were against Saddam Hussein continuing his rule.

Some 3.7% had no opinion and just 64 people - 1.8% - were in favour according to the results of the survey in Iraqi Kurdistan, which the organisers said was neutral.

Continuing talks

The BBC's Caroline Hawley, reporting from Baghdad, says that despite the festive air during polling, the Iraqi regime is well aware that the Americans are determined not to allow Saddam to serve the new term he is assured.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell met UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the continuing wrangle over a new United Nations resolution on Iraq's alleged remaining weapons of mass destruction.

Washington has threatened to take unilateral action against Saddam if the UN fails to find a solution.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Baghdad
"There was no doubt that Saddam Hussein would get overwhelming support"
The BBC's Roger Hearing
"The celebrating has been going on since the polls opened on Tuesday"

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See also:

15 Oct 02 | Middle East
15 Oct 02 | Middle East
15 Oct 02 | Middle East
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