Iraqi elections kept low-key, but secure, in Paris

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Posters were installed just prior to the polling.
Barriers block parking and access to cars; visitors are filtered at the entrance.
A bus of CRS police waits in front of the polling station entrance.

Fourteen countries outside of Iraq have been selected for the installation of polling stations for the Iraqi National Assembly election. Among these, Paris, capital city of France, will welcome voters from France, Belgium, and Switzerland.

While the event has not been kept secret, the French government and media have been quite discreet about it. The polling station has been installed in an unused elementary school in a calm residential neighbourhood of the XIIIe arrondissement, without fanfare. Most inhabitants are not even aware of its presence – that is, until they notice the unusual deployment of police and come across the posters written in French and Arabic. Despite the discretion, the sight of police guarding a polling station is striking in a country where elections are a calm affair on a Sunday, and polling stations, most of which are installed in schools, are only noticeable because of the official billboards carrying the candidates' posters.

Security measures have been taken – metallic barriers prevent parking in and around the front and back entrances to the station, and CRS riot police with bulletproof vests guard the entrances. Still, overall, the security measures remain limited. Traffic flows in the street, passers-by freely walk in front of the station entrance, no display of heavy weapons. This contrasts with the use of military troops and deployments of gendarmes mobiles that France used in its Vigipirate anti-terror plan following the Islamist terror bombings that it suffered in 1995, or the typical security measures kept around possible terror targets such as the embassies of Israel and the United States of America. This time, military cars and a handful of soldiers were seen in the morning, but were gone in the afternoon.

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