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Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Sunday, 7 June 2009 15:28 UK

Crowds turn out for Lebanon vote

A Lebanese supporter of the Free Patriotic Movement of Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun
Voters in Beirut's Achrafiyeh area could sway the election outcome

By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Beirut

Every polling station in Beirut is surrounded by armed soldiers.

Tens of thousands of troops have been deployed to prevent any trouble in this close and highly competitive race for parliament.

From the early morning, hundreds of people queued up in one of the schools in Beirut's Achrafiyeh neighbourhood.

Achrafiyeh is a Christian neighbourhood, and it is especially important in this election.

The Christian community is divided between the two main rival blocks and their votes could sway the outcome.

Outside the polling station, on the left side of the road young men in bright orange T-shirts called on the people to vote for the Hezbollah-led coalition and their Christian ally General Michel Aoun.

Women queue to vote in Achrafiyeh as soldiers stand guard
Women and men voted in separate wings of the building

Across the street from them, activists from the Christian Lebanese Forces of Mr Aoun's rival, Samir Geagea, said people should vote for the pro-Western, US-backed incumbent 14 March coalition to which it belongs.

"I am 44 years old and I have always voted, but this is the most important election we've ever had," said Nabil, one of the Achrafiyeh residents.

"This will really set the tone for the future, we are choosing between two very distinctly different paths," he added.

Inside the polling station, men and women voted in separate wings of the building.

One by one they entered the classrooms where the voting booths were set up.

Some complained about the heat and the slow speed of the process, but many emphasised just how important the election was.

Across Beirut, in the city's southern suburbs, pictures of the Hezbollah leaders hung from the walls of the polling stations.

Hezbollah is in full control of the southern suburbs, where most people say they are voting for the opposition.

A Hezbollah activist distributes ballot papers in Beirut
With no universal ballot papers, parties distribute their own lists.

"I believe in Hezbollah because they protect us.

"God willing, they will win this election," said Amal, an elderly woman, as she made her way towards the voting room.

In Lebanon the actual voting process looks different from most countries, because there are no universal ballot papers.

The ballots with the lists of their candidates printed on them are distributed by the parties beforehand.

Equally, voters can write the names of their preferred candidates on any piece of paper, then put it inside the government printed envelope and drop it into the ballot box.

It is an old-fashioned voting system that the West has long parted with, and in Lebanon many observers worry that it could undermine transparency of the counting process in this highly competitive election.



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