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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
President 'leads' Surinam's poll
Surinam President Ronald Venetiaan and Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the Caricom Summit in Paramaribo, Surinam in February
President Venetiaan is tipped as holding on to power
Voting has ended in Surinam in a general election for a new 51-member parliament and regional leaders for the former Dutch colony.

Early results suggest President Ronald Venetiaan's coalition is slightly ahead, AFP news agency reports.

Opinion polls had said he held a slight lead in the South American state.

There had been fears that relations with the US and the Netherlands could be hit if ex-military ruler Desi Bouterse was returned to power.

A Dutch court convicted him in absentia of involvement in the cocaine trade. He denies the charges.

Correspondents say neither Mr Venetiaan or Mr Bouterse is expected to win an overall majority.

The election is likely to be followed by negotiations with minor parties, including representatives of Surinam's former slaves, they say.

Mr Venetiaan is an advocate of free-market economic policies.

Mr Bouterse reached out to young and poor voters who complain that economic reforms undertaken by Mr Venetiaan's four-party New Front Coalition have not improved their lives.

Final results are expected later on Thursday.

New case?

Voter turnout was light but steady amid rain showers on Wednesday.

Mr Venetiaan cast his vote in the capital, Paramaribo, accompanied by drummers and flag-waving supporters.

Dozens of screaming supporters were said to have mobbed Mr Bouterse as he arrived to vote in a school outside Paramaribo, chanting "Des for Pres".

The new parliament will choose a president and vice-president.

Since independence in 1975, Surinam has had to contend with a series of coups and a civil war.

Mr Bouterse dominated politics for much of the post-independence era.

He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the Dutch court in 1999 - but both countries have signed a treaty prohibiting extradition.

He is also facing prosecution in connection with the 1982 killings of 15 political opponents.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Surinam
29 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Surinam
15 Apr 05 |  Country profiles



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