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Page last updated at 18:59 GMT, Saturday, 25 July 2009 19:59 UK

Iraq awaits Kurdistan poll result

Iraqi lawmaker Ahlam Assad casts her ballot in an election for the Kurd-run region
Polling was extended to ensure everybody had a chance to vote

Polls have closed in presidential and parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the ruling coalition faces a stiff challenge.

Incumbent President Masood Barzani and the two main parties are expected to win, despite a strong campaign by the reformist Change movement.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, called it a great day for the autonomous Kurdish region.

Official results are not expected to be declared until early next week.

Polling was extended for an hour because some voters were unable to find their names on registration lists.

In many areas the turnout was reported to be high.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Suleimaniya says officials at one station said nearly 80% of those registered had voted and even higher figures were quoted from elsewhere.

There were no reports of violence but Change said its observers had been expelled from all the polling stations in Dahuk province in the west.

It said there were systematic voting irregularities there and in Irbil as well.

Our correspondent says people will be watching the outcome of the election closely, to see how many seats the reformists manage to take away from the coalition partners, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

President Barzani, who heads the KDP, said he hoped the elections would be a "first step to solving issues with Baghdad", alluding to long-running tensions with the Kurds over land, oil, and power.

New challenger

In the parliamentary election, the KDP and PUK, which is led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, fielded a joint list for the 100 seats being contested. Another 11 seats are reserved for minorities.

Party faithfulls attend a rally in support of the "Change list" led by Nusherwan Mustafa, a former number two in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, on July 22, 2009

While the coalition is generally expected to win, the two parties' dominance is facing a serious challenge from the Change movement, led by Noshirwan Mustafa.

The movement has shaken the establishment with its demand for an end to corruption and elitism, and seems to have strong support particularly in the eastern areas, says our correspondent.

Some of its more optimistic supporters believe it could win enough seats to team up with Islamists and leftists to deny the two big parties a majority.

While that seems unlikely, the movement is certainly expected to do well enough to form a vocal opposition in parliament for the first time, our correspondent adds.

Some 20,000 troops have been stationed at polling stations, with 2.5 million people registered to vote.

It is the first time the president of Kurdistan is being elected directly by popular vote.

Parliamentary elections were last held in 2005.



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