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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 19:12 GMT
Allawi group defends $100 gifts
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi
Mr Allawi was not present at the campaign meeting
The electoral group headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has defended its decision to hand out $100 bills to journalists at a campaign meeting.

Officials said the gesture, made to some 20 reporters in Baghdad on Monday, was "just hospitality".

News of the move, common under Saddam Hussein and in Arab countries, provoked speculation on organisers' intentions.

The gift (53) is equal to about half the starting monthly salary for a reporter on an Iraqi newspaper.

After the meeting held by Mr Allawi's Iraqi List campaign alliance, reporters - mostly from the Arabic-language press - were invited upstairs and given the cash in an envelope.

Adnan Janabi, campaign manager for the Iraqi List, told London's Daily Telegraph newspaper: "We have no excuse in your culture, but I'm from a tribal background and in ours it is just hospitality.

He added: "If we wanted to bribe the press, we would have to pay a lot more."

Mr Allawi was not present at the news conference but Hussein al-Sadr, a well-known Shia cleric running on the prime minister's list, used it to challenge Islamist opponents in the United Iraqi Alliance.

Elections in Iraq are set for 30 January, but on Tuesday the prime minister admitted that "pockets" of the country would not participate because of security fears.


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