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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
Row overshadows Kirkuk poll
Basim Haydar Hassoon, 17, suffered hand and head wounds in an apparent grenade attack in fighting between Arabs and Kurds
Ethnic tension between Arabs and Kurds has led to violence

Arab and Turkmen leaders in the oil-rich Iraqi town of Kirkuk are protesting against the results of elections for a local council, a vote which US officials had hoped would ease ethnic tensions.

Some 300 delegates had gathered on Saturday to elect 24 members of the 30-seat city council, billed by the US as another key step in efforts to establish local authorities in Iraqi towns.

But the election in the multi-ethnic town, which includes Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrian Christians, was overshadowed by complaints that Kurds made up most of the six "independent" candidates appointed by the US in addition to the 24.

"They must revise this decision, there is no alternative," said Mustafa Kemal Yaycili, local head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.

"We have made a written petition to the US general and he has promised to reconsider."

Review promised

The town has long been seen as a potential powder keg as a result of Saddam Hussein's efforts to alter its ethnic balance by forcing Kurds from their homes and allowing Arabs to move in.

A man watches television on a Kirkuk street

Ten people were killed in clashes last week sparked by the fact that Arabs now claim to be the majority in a traditionally Kurdish town.

American authorities controlling the city decided each of the four communities, as well as the US, should have equal representation on the new council.

The respective ethnic groups therefore selected 24 representatives - six for each community.

The US, however, appointed six more from a list of around double that number who had been elected by 144 independent delegates to the gathering.

The six comprised four Kurds, one Assyrian and one member of an ethnically mixed tribe.

US Major General Raymond Odierno, who made the selection, said he would take the protests into account.

"I will conduct a personal review of the independents' representations and tomorrow I'll make a decision," he said.

The council arrangement is an interim one, but coalition troops are nonetheless calling it another step towards democracy.

Kurdish fears

Since the war, tens of thousands of Kurds have poured back into the city and returned to their homes to find them now demolished or owned by Arabs.

Resettling the Kurds will be one of the most explosive issues facing the city's new council although its power over the matter will be limited, said BBC correspondent Barbara Plett.

She said the Kurds did not have a lot of confidence in any new council, but as Kirkuk is central to their plans for self-determination it is in their interests to become the majority again.

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