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Councillor accused of recruiting Somali army.

Byline: By Paul Dale Public Affairs Editor

Labour and Liberal Democrat activists in Birmingham's troubled Aston ward continued to sling mud at each other yesterday, as a bitter city council election campaign entered its final week.

Allegations about alleged malpractice flew thick and fast with a Lib Dem councillor accused of increasing his chances by recruiting a mini-army of Somalian helpers, while a Labour councillor was said to have broken election rules by entering the home of someone who had taken delivery of postal ballot forms.

Labour is demanding an inquiry into allegations the Somalis courted by Councillor Ayoub Khan may not be British citizens and therefore have no right to vote on May 1.

Sir Albert Bore, leader of the council Labour group, lodged a complaint after Coun Khan was photographed at a lunch attended by more than 30 members of the Somali community on April 12 at the Hill Top Cafe and Restaurant in Moseley.

Four days later, he provoked controversy by delivering 200 postal vote application forms to the council elections office 15 minutes before the deadline for registration. The documentation requests postal votes for the Somalis and their family members, according to Labour.

There is no suggestion Coun Khan's actions were unlawful, although his late delivery appears to contravene the Electoral Commission's code of conduct which states that completed postal vote forms should be forwarded "directly and without delay" to the local Electoral Registration Office.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Aston, where several election petitions since 2002 have alleged widespread fraud.

When challenged about the late delivery, Coun Khan explained he had been "virtually bed-ridden" for two weeks with flu and could not get to the office any sooner. However, Labour insists his appearance at the restaurant proves he would have been well enough to visit the elections office days before the deadline.

Sir Albert is calling for elections officials to visit the addresses on the postal forms to ensure the applications are legitimate. Coun Khan, standing for re-election on May 1, dismissed the allegations, which he described as a smear campaign.

The lunch was a community event attended by Labour councillor Yvonne Mosquito and a representative from West Midlands Police.

Coun Khan added: "I had been ill for two weeks and I was visited at home by my GP on April 10. But this particular event had been booked in my diary for a couple of weeks and I got a lift there because I couldn't drive. I was coughing all over the place, you can ask anyone."

He stressed that Somalians were entitled to vote if they possessed UK or EU citizenship and added that the Labour Party was also actively recruiting Somalians living in Birmingham.

Coun Khan said: "These allegations about me are all rubbish. There is a council strike on, schools are closed and services are disrupted, and all Labour can go on about is Somalians.

They know they are weak in Aston, that they are going to lose, and they are trying to make something out of nothing."

Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, meanwhile, hit back by releasing a photograph of Aston Labour councillor Ziaul Islam leaving a house where the occupants had registered to vote by post.

The code of conduct agreed by all political parties says activists should not enter the premises of postal voters after ballot papers have been delivered.

Mr Hemming said: "Labour are bang to rights over this. They are doing what they are not supposed to do."

A Labour spokeswoman said it was unclear whether the ballot papers had actually arrived at the house when the picture was taken.

paul.dale@birminghampost.net

"This particular event had been booked in my diary for a couple of weeks and I got a lift there because I couldn't drive

Coun Khan

CAPTION(S):

Coun Khan was photographed at a lunch on April 12 at a time he claimed he was 'virtually bed-ridden' with flu
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 24, 2008
Words:658
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