[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Pakistan begins ballot counting
Women voters in Peshawar, North West Frontier Province
There are 50,000 women contesting the elections
Turnout has exceeded 50% in the first phase of local elections in Pakistan, officials said as the counting of votes began.

At least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in clashes between rival groups during polling.

Political parties are not allowed to take part in the polls, but a specific quota for women and minorities has encouraged their greater participation.

Voting in the remaining districts will be held next week.

Seven men were killed in separate incidents in Punjab province as rival groups clashed in Gujranwala, Multan, Sahiwal and Toba Tek Singh. Several others were injured.

Three men were killed in Bannu in the North West Frontier Province.

The BBC's Azizullah Khan in Quetta says at least 19 people were injured in a scuffle in the southern Balochistan district of Jafarabad.

Polling was also suspended for several hours at two polling stations in Karachi, following armed clashes between rival groups.

And at a women's polling station in the city's densely populated Burnes Road, election officials discovered four ballot boxes that had been stuffed with votes before being delivered.

Polling officer Ali Salman Ahmed has been taken into custody.

Irregularities

Meanwhile, there have been reports of incomplete voter lists from all over Karachi.

In Lyari, one of the most colourful and multi-ethnic area of the city, hundreds of people complained that their names were missing from the lists.

Voters queue in Karachi
Two polling stations in Karachi were closed after clashes
"I have been voting for the last 20 years from this area, but this time, I cannot find my name in the voters' list," said one resident.

The problem seems to be particularly acute at women's polling stations, says the BBC's Aamer Ahmed Khan in Karachi.

But interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said that despite reports of some minor irregularities, polling had proceeded smoothly across the country.

Women ban

The Chief Minister of North West Frontier (NWFP) Province, Akram Durrani, denied that tribal elders had prevented women from voting in some parts of the province.

Tribal elders had banned women from voting in three councils in the province, but the government had persuaded local jirgas - or tribal councils - to lift the ban late on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, reports from the area suggested that women were not turning out to vote in large numbers.

In one women's polling station in a suburb of Peshawar, capital of NWFP, not a single vote was cast in the first five hours of polling, the BBC's Haroon Rashid in Peshawar says.

Human rights activists are demanding the cancellation of election results in such districts.

Crying foul

The present system of local governments was introduced by President Pervez Musharraf four years ago.

Troops patrolling in Karachi
Troops were asked to intensify patrolling in Karachi after clashes

Voting is being held for over 6,000 local councils and more than 40,000 troops have been deployed.

A record 218,000 candidates, including more than 55,000 women, are contesting what are only the second such elections since Gen Musharraf took over.

The elections are on a non-party basis, but political parties are supporting their own set of candidates, which has generated a fair amount of controversy.

Opposition parties have accused the government of pre-poll rigging - pointing to the fact that a large number of candidates have been elected unopposed.

For its part, the government says the opposition has not been able to find enough candidates to contest all the seats.

Analysts say these elections are not just about choosing a new set of local governments - they are also a test of Gen Musharraf's commitment to restore complete democracy in the country.




RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific