Iraq vote brawl erupts in Sydney

Shotgun blasts have wounded four people after tensions linked to the Iraq election boiled over into a street brawl involving around 100 Iraqi expatriates in Sydney, police say.

    Demonstrators protest outside an official polling booth in Sydney

    Some Iraqis in Australia question the legitimacy of the election,

    saying their homeland is under occupation and jeering at voters who cast

    absentee ballots.

    Fights broke out on Saturday and on Sunday in a western Sydney

    neighbourhood dominated by Iraqi Shia, police said on Monday. 

    Sunday's fight resulted in several shotgun blasts,

    damaging several cars and a shop in the Auburn neighbourhood and leaving four

    people with minor ricochet wounds, said New South Wales state police

    Superintendent Allen Harding.

    No charges

    No charges were immediately filed, police said.

    "The past weekend has seen an escalation in tension between members of

    the Iraqi community here in Auburn," Harding said.

    About 95% of Australia's Iraqis 
    who registered, voted

    Voting hours were extended at the Auburn polling centre, one of five in

    Sydney, on Saturday and Sunday after a brawl and a bomb scare halted voting

    for an hour.

    Despite the disruptions, officials said 94.6% of the 11,806 voters

    registered in Australia cast their ballots over three days.

    Saturday's clash involving about 50 people erupted when about 20

    protesters yelled insults at voters.

    The protesters were identified by ballot organisers as Wahhabis -

    followers of an austere brand of Sunni Islam.

    Pictures taken

    Police were called but there were no arrests and no reports of injuries.

    A backpack found near the polling centre after the fighting ended sparked a bomb

    scare and the place was closed, but no bomb was found.

    Thair Wali, an Iraqi adviser to the International Organisation for

    Migration, said the fight broke out on Saturday after the protesters began

    taking pictures of voters leaving the station.

    "This is scary for the people, taking photos of the voting," he said.

    Many of Australia's estimated 80,000 Iraqis declined to register for the

    election, fearing that their votes would prompt armed groups to target

    their relatives in Iraq.

    Australia is one of 14 countries where Iraqi exiles were able to vote by

    absentee ballot.

    Troops to stay

    Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander

    Downer said on Monday 

    his country would keep troops in Iraq if

    Iraq's newly elected government wanted them.

    Australia has almost 900 military
    personnel in and around Iraq

    With Iraqi officials confident voter turnout at the weekend's democratic

    elections had exceeded the predicted 57%, Downer said the election

    result could be described as a genuine success.

    The government that will be formed next month will have credibility and

    democratic legitimacy, Downer said in London, where he met his British

    counterpart Jack Straw over the weekend.

    Australia sent 2000 elite troops for the invasion of Iraq and still has

    almost 900 military personnel in and around the country.

    "We will be very influenced by the views of the incoming democratically

    elected Iraqi government," he said, when asked when Australian troops would

    leave.

    "If they want us to stay for some time, we would be prepared to do that

    to make sure the Iraqi security forces are trained up to be able to provide

    security for the Iraqis themselves," he added.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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