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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
Yemen president leads vote count
Yemeni man voting in the capital Sanaa
Yemenis are looking for economic growth and an end to corruption
Early results in Yemen's presidential election show the president of 28 years leading with more than 80% of the vote, the electoral commission said.

Incumbent Ali Abdullah Saleh's main challenger, Faisal Bin Shamlan, was trailing with about 16%, according to the commission head.

Voting was mainly peaceful, although at least three people were killed.

The elections are being seen as a test of the government's commitment to tackling corruption.

It is the first time President Saleh has faced a serious challenge.

Roughly 5 million of the 9.2 million eligible Yemenis cast ballots, the commission said.

Yemenis discuss the election candidates and issues

An official for the commission said three people had died in fighting between rival supporters, including two opposition municipal candidates.

The opposition coalition backing Mr Shamlan told Reuters news agency a total of eight people had been killed in gunfights.

It also reported 30 instances of irregularities, including observers forced to leave several stations, forced voting, intimidation of voters and removal of ballot boxes, Reuters reported.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Sanaa says Western donors are watching the polls closely.

If they are seen to be peaceful and reasonably democratic, donors could increase international aid, which the government says is needed to tackle Islamist militancy.

Security was tight at the 5,500 polling stations, with 100,000 security personnel deployed throughout the country.

About 100 European observers monitored the vote.

'Voters' victory'

Many men arrived to vote in traditional clothes and with daggers in their belts while women - of which there are 3.9 million registered in an electorate of 9.25 million - turned up clothed from head to toe in black.

They stood in separate lines for booths and were searched by female police officers.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Incumbent Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in power for 28 years
Mr Saleh cast his vote early, saying the real victor in the polls was the Yemeni people.

"Today is a real celebration of Yemen's democracy as we set the foundations for Yemen's future in peaceful alternation of power," Mr Saleh told reporters as he cast his ballot.

Mr Shamlan, a former oil minister, has campaigned with tackling corruption as his main priority if elected.

His coalition accuses the ruling party of forging voter lists, and intimidating and arresting his supporters.

The other two candidates in the race are socialist party candidate Ahmed al-Majidi and Fathi al-Azab, who urged his supporters to vote for Mr Shamlan.

Mr Shamlan's slogan, "a president at the service of Yemen, not Yemen at the service of the president", is an allusion to the alleged cronyism and corruption around Mr Saleh.

BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says a transition to democracy is far ahead of some other countries in Arabia, although power still rests primarily with tribes, the army and religious leaders.


SEE ALSO
Crucial role for Yemen monitors
19 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Yemen gets real taste of democracy
15 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Profile: Yemeni candidates
19 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Q&A: Yemen votes
18 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Deadly stampede at Yemeni rally
12 Sep 06 |  Middle East
Country profile: Yemen
12 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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