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Iraq vote today on Saddam new term

Baghdad, Oct. 14 (Reuters): Iraq urged voters today to give a resounding “Yes” for a new term in office for President Saddam Hussein in a nationwide referendum, saying the vote would deal a heavy blow to US plans to oust him.

“The political and international circumstances and the American and Zionist threats (against Iraq) have given the referendum a new meaning,” information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters in Baghdad. “It is a blow to those criminals.”

Tomorrow’s referendum comes at a time when Saddam, who was appointed president in 1979, is facing possibly the toughest challenge to his iron-fist rule.

US President George W. Bush, pushing a policy of “regime change” in Baghdad, last week won a mandate from Congress to use force if necessary to disarm Iraq. This week Bush is seeking a tough UN resolution on Iraq from the Security Council. Washington accuses Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, a charge Baghdad denies.

“The 15th of October is a painful blow to all the plots of the damned Bush and it is one of the secrets of the greatness of the Iraqi people and their support for their immortal leader, Saddam Hussein,” Babel newspaper, owned by Saddam’s son Uday, said in a front page editorial.

Nearly 12 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the presidential referendum. They have to answer a simple “Yes” or “No” to another seven-year term in office for Saddam. With the voting process tightly controlled by the authorities and with no independent observers or other candidates, the voting results are a forgone conclusion.

In a referendum in 1995, official results showed 99.96 per cent of votes were cast in favour of extending Saddam’s term of office. Officials say privately they want an even higher percentage this time, with some hoping for a 100 per cent “Yes” result.

“One of our civilised responses to the hollow arrogance (of the United States) is what the proud Iraqis will say tomorrow in one voice and write with one hand ... the biggest “Yes” in history to the leader, thinker, inspirer and symbol President Saddam Hussein,” Babel said.

The number of portraits Saddam, always a permanent fixture in Baghdad streets, have increased in recent days. The 65-year-old leader appears in suits, in traditional Arab and Kurdish dress and in military fatigues. Some show him smoking a cigar, eating water melon or carrying children. Thousands of banners praise Saddam and urge a “Yes” vote. “Yes, Yes to our leader Saddam Hussein and death to America and Zionism,” one banner read.

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