Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Ugandans flood to voting stations in presidential poll

AFP , KAMPALA

Ugandans streamed into polling stations yesterday to cast ballots in landmark elections dominated by a bitter battle between President Yoweri Museveni and opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

Long lines formed at many of the nearly 20,000 voting centers within an hour of the polls opening at 7am for the east African nation's first multi-party elections in 26 years, correspondents said.

Polls were to close at 5pm with results expected by tomorrow, according to the authorities, who have vowed a free and fair election despite opposition charges of rampant intimidation in the tense campaign.

Some voters complained of minor logistical problems but the process appeared to be progressing smoothly under the watchful eyes of security forces that have been deployed in massive numbers amid fears of violence.

"We had problems at the start," said 38-year-old Kampala voter Annette Buyonda. "We were bounced from one station to another because of a mix-up in the registers and the stations were not properly marked."

Around the capital, several centers opened 10 to 15 minutes behind schedule while delays of up to two hours were reported further afield due to the late arrival of voting materials and poll officials.

The hitches annoyed many who had followed advice to turn up early to avoid a crush in what is expected to be heavy turnout.

But electoral officials said that with the exception of one northern constituency where the parliamentary poll was cancelled outright because one candidate's name was missing from the ballot, voting was generally fine.

About 10.4 million Ugandans are eligible to vote for one of five presidential candidates and parliament but the campaign has been overshadowed by animosity between the main contenders for the top job.

Although Museveni is widely expected to win and extend his 20-year hold on power with a new five-year mandate, the spirited challenge from Besigye, his former personal physician and friend, has riveted this country of 26 million.

The contest is a re-match of the last election in 2001 when the arch-rivals ran as individuals rather than on party slates and Museveni won with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

Besigye alleged massive fraud, unsuccessfully sought to annul the results and then fled into exile after Museveni accused him of trying to foment a coup. He only returned in October.

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