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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 November 2006, 19:17 GMT
Mauritania stages historic poll
An election rally by Progressive Popular Alliance in Nouakchott
It is predicted that the vote will be cast along ethnic lines
Mauritanians have voted in the North African country's first election since last year's bloodless coup ended 20 years of authoritarian rule.

Turnout was said to be high and long queues formed even before polls opened.

Nearly one million people were eligible to vote in the national parliament and municipal council polls.

The military junta which took over after the ousting of President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya had promised an early return to civilian government.

After casting his vote, the junta leader Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall said he was "satisfied to see Mauritanians embark on the road to democracy and consequently on the way to economic development and political stability."

The first provisional results are expected late on Monday.

This poll will be followed by elections for the senate in January and for the president two months later.

Ethnic loyalties

The BBC's North Africa correspondent Richard Hamilton says there seems to be a thirst for democracy.

Map of Mauritania
In June, turnout was also high in a referendum on a new constitution which, among other things, put a two-term limit on any future president.

Observers from the European Union were monitoring the elections and so far no problems have been reported.

At least 28 political parties were competing to be represented in the 95-member lower house of parliament, the National Assembly - although only five parties were considered to be front-runners.

But Islamist parties and movements, considered to be among the most popular in the country, have been banned.

This has resulted in many Islamist candidates standing as independents.

Because Mauritania is home to a number of different racial groups from Arabs and Berbers to black sub-Saharan tribes, it is predicted that people may have voted along ethnic lines, our correspondent says.

The largely desert country started pumping oil in February this year, so how that could help development was one of the biggest issues facing voters.

Mauritania is one of the few Arabic countries to have recognised Israel and has also co-operated in the US "war against terror".

Mauritanians cast their votes

In pictures: Mauritania campaigns
18 Nov 06 |  In Pictures
Q&A: Mauritania elections
16 Nov 06 |  Africa

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