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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Peaceful end to Guyana poll
Polling station in Guyana
Queues at polling stations reflected the high turnout
Voting has passed off peacefully in Guyana's general election despite tension in the run-up to the poll and fears of ethnic violence.

Polling was extended for a time to allow people to cast their ballots after what officials said was a huge turnout.

Although there were no serious problems during the day, as night fell there were reports of sporadic looting in the capital, Georgetown.

A number of the country's ethnic Afro-Guyanese minority were also reportedly barred from voting after being apparently omitted from electoral rolls.

Afro-Guyanese voter
Afro-Guyanese are in a minority
Opinion polls suggest the ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP), backed by the majority East Indian population, will be returned to power.

Although both are socialist parties, the PPP and the opposition People's National Congress reflect Guyana's deep racial divisions.

The country is split between the East Indians, who make up the greater part of the population and who broadly support the PPP, and those of African descent who back the People's National Congress.

This year's election debate has focused on allegations of fraud in the database of voters.

Rampage

Opposition candidates such as Joe Hamilton allege that the official electoral list has been tampered with in favour of the PPP.

President Jagdeo
President Jagdeo denies election fraud
That, according to President Bharrat Jagdeo, is nothing short of incitement to violence, and although he acknowledges problems, he also said that it is the result of logistical problems in a developing nation and not fraud.

He said: "I'm very worried about people whose names are not on the list, but it hasn't affected just one party, it's affected people right across Guyana and I don't see any pattern to it."

Nonetheless, several diplomats believe violence in the former British colony is almost inevitable.

When the opposition lost the last poll in 1997, young frustrated Afro-Guyanese took to the streets in a two-week rampage.

The mostly Indian shopkeepers in the centre of the capital, Georgetown, who have been boarding up their businesses, say nothing has changed that would avoid a repeat.

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