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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 08:15 GMT
Aceh votes in landmark elections
Election posters
The elections are a watershed for the province
Indonesia's Aceh province has held elections for local leaders in the region's first direct polls.

The elections for the posts of governor and deputy governor are part of a peace deal signed with separatist rebels after 29 years of war left 15,000 dead.

Rebels in Aceh gave up a demand for independence after winning autonomy and the right to participate fully in democratic elections.

Much of Aceh was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

The scale of the disaster - which killed 170,000 people in Aceh - spurred the rebels and the government into peace talks.

But now eight pairs of candidates have contested for the positions of governor and vice-governor. District heads were also up for election.

If Gam wins, well good for them - that's democracy, everyone's ready to accept that
Azwar Akubakar

Turnout was expected to be high among Aceh's 2.6 million registered voters.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson, in Aceh, says many people never expected to be electing their own representatives, and there is a real hope that this election will bring people the peace and prosperity they were promised.

"We're here to vote for the leader of Aceh for the first time," Badriah Ali, a 35-year-old civil servant told the Reuters news agency.

"I hope by choosing one with sincerity the leader can bring peace to Aceh."

Ballots not bullets

Former members of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) and an ex-army general are among those standing for election, as well as representatives from the powerful Indonesian party, Golkar.

Former Gam fighter Muhammad Nazar said there is "no other choice" for the ex-fighters but to take part in the election.

"We must have control of the executive, form a local party, control the legislature... no longer with weapons," he told the AFP news agency.

"This is not to end the struggle but to alter it from an armed conflict to political institutions which are more conducive,"

Previously, Aceh's governor and deputy governor were appointed by the Indonesian central government in Jakarta.

The incumbent governor, Azwar Akubakar, hopes to be elected to his post, but also congratulated Gam on the switch "from bullets to ballots".

"And if Gam wins, well good for them. That's democracy. Everyone's ready to accept that," he told the Associated Press.

Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Monday. No candidate is expected to gain enough votes to win outiright, triggering a second round early next year.

Former Aceh fighters face ballot box
11 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh wary over new Sharia police
08 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Viewpoints: Aceh's first elections
06 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Acehnese mark one year of peace
15 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Indonesia
18 Oct 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Indonesia
18 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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