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UN envoy seeks talks to calm Iraq tensions

By Staff
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BAGHDAD, Feb 23 (Reuters) The UN envoy to Iraq invited Iraqi political and religious leaders today to meet and try to overcome spiralling sectarian tensions that have raised the risk of civil war after the bombing of a Shi'ite mosque.

''I have invited political, religious and civil leaders to discuss confidence-building measures to ensure the situation remains under control,'' envoy Ashraf Qazi told Reuters.

The Pakistani diplomat said he was optimistic Iraq could avert a civil war despite escalating violence, saying Iraqi leaders had assured him that they were doing everything in their power to ease tensions.

''I think the Iraqi people are not inclined to allow activities to bring such an awful thing to pass,'' he said. ''The leadership met at the President's residence. All are actively concerned with calming the situation down.'' Tensions have soared since a blast yesterday that devastated the Golden Mosque in the town of Samarra.

The attack sparked violent reprisals by Shi'ites against Sunnis, with Sunni mosques and religious leaders attacked. More than 130 people have died since the mosque attack.

Qazi called on political leaders to urge Iraqis to show restraint when provoked.

''There are those who want to pit one section of the people against another section of the people,'' Qazi said.

''We want the Iraqi leadership to call on their people to act with restraint in the face of provocation.'' REUTERS MP RAI2217

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