Polls closed in Iraq's historic election Sunday night, with organizers hedging on how many people voted. But despite threats of violence - and terrorist attacks that killed at least 44 people - it appeared that turn-out was in the range of 60 percent. An early estimate by elections commission officials put it at 72 percent, but they later issued a revision, saying they had guessed at the size. Fourteen million Iraqis were registered to vote, and officials said beforehand that they were projecting 57 percent participation. A spokesman for the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance said his coalition's opinion surveys "in all the provinces" showed a "sweeping victory" in races for the 275 seats in the National Assembly that will draw up the permanent Constitution and select a president. With 111 parties or alliances offering candidates, final results aren't expected for at least a week. The most discouraging reports came from majority Sunni areas such as Fallujah, Ramadi, and some Baghdad neighborhoods, where polls were largely deserted if they opened at all.
"I can say with some confidence" that 90 percent of Iraqis abroad who registered for the election ended up casting votes, the chief of the absentee-ballot program told news organizations. Voting, which stretched over three days, lured an estimated 250,000 expatriates to polling places, he said.
Organizers expected more than 100,000 protesters for a rally in Jerusalem Sunday night against Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. But the demonstration would be taking place against a backdrop of increased high-level contact between Israeli and Palestinian officials; the announcement of a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Feb. 8; and the imminent handover of control over four key cities in the West Bank - Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Jericho, and Tulkarm - to Abbas's security forces. The Sharon-Abbas meeting is to coincide with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's first visit to the region in her new capacity. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told journalists that violence by Palestinian militants against Israelis has dropped 75 percent in the past week.
Two people were hurt in the explosion of a terrorist bomb left on the patio of a resort hotel on Spain's Mediterranean coast. It went off half an hour after a telephoned warning from a person claiming to speak for the Basque separatist group ETA. Tuesday, Spain's parliament is due to consider a proposal that would set up steps to give the Basque region almost complete independence. Rejection is considered virtually certain.