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Clerics Urge Shiites to Protest

Preachers in Shiite Muslim mosques appealed to their followers Friday to prepare for demonstrations, strikes and possible confrontations with occupation troops to back up demands for elections in advance of a transfer of authority from a U.S.-led administration to Iraqis. The calls increased pressure on the Bush administration and its handpicked Iraqi Governing Council to satisfy demands by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s most influential cleric, for elections. President Bush’s chief administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and top Governing Council leaders are scheduled to meet in New York next week in hopes of enlisting U.N. help in changing Sistani’s mind. The United States and the council have fashioned a proposal to select a transitional assembly by July 1 through a complex system of regional caucuses. Sistani rejected the plan on the grounds it disenfranchises Iraqis and puts Iraq’s future in the hands of the United States. Sistani’s challenge was sharpened in Shiite mosques throughout Iraq on Friday, and the option of violence was made explicit. Full Story

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