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Mass. activists join push for UN check on election

UNITED NATIONS -- Seven American activist groups, including two from Massachusetts, asked the United Nations yesterday to provide international observers for next month's US presidential election.

Grace Ross of the Economic Human Rights Project, based in Somerville, said the nongovernmental groups decided to seek action from the UN's Economic and Social Council, known as ECOSOC, after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan turned down a request for international observers from 13 members of Congress led by Eddie Bernice Johnson, Democrat of Texas.

Annan said the United Nations needed an invitation from the US government, not Congress.

The groups presented a petition saying that only the United Nations can ''give us recourse to international bodies beyond those within our own national and state governments" in case of a repeat of the problems seen in the 2000 election, which President Bush won after a protracted ballot fight in Florida.

Ross contended that while governments need to go through the UN General Assembly, nongovernmental organizations could request observers through ECOSOC. If its 54 elected member nations approve, the ECOSOC president could then ask Annan to send observers, she said.

The United States would have to grant permission to any observers.

The petition ''strongly supports" the presence of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 55-nation security group invited by the Bush administration to monitor the election. Bush faces Democratic challenger Senator John F. Kerry.

But the seven groups say it's not clear that the European observers will have the force of international law, because its members are invited guests.

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