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Page last updated at 15:50 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 16:50 UK

Gayoom faces run-off in Maldives

President Gayoom queuing to vote
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is seeking a seventh term after 30 years in power

Voting in the Maldives first multi-party presidential election has gone to a second round after President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom failed to win outright.

Mr Gayoom secured 41% of votes cast, while opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed came second with 25%, vote officials said. Four others were knocked out.

The two men will now contest a run-off vote to decide the winner.

President Gayoom, Asia's longest serving leader, has held power in the Indian Ocean archipelago for 30 years.

In August, he approved a law permitting multi-party elections, responding to years of political agitation for reform.

Mr Gayoom said after the vote that he still believed he had enough support to remain president.

"I'm not concerned because you know, if anything is shown by this result, it is that I am still the most popular public figure in this country," he said.

'Dictator'

The votes were counted through the night and into Thursday, says the BBC's Roland Buerk in the capital, Male.

I feel I must be at the helm to see through the reform programme
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom

More than 84% of the country's 208,000 registered voters cast their ballots in the vote, electoral officials say.

Our correspondent says Mr Nasheed, who leads the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), will be hoping that supporters of the other four candidates now swing behind him.

He has accused Mr Gayoom of being "a dictator" and says international election observers will be needed to ensure a fair vote.

"We're very confident that... we will win this through and within 10 days we will have another leadership in this country and a democratic government," Mr Nasheed said.

"But for democracy to be established in the Maldives, we need the assistance of the international community, especially they need to observe the vote, they need to protect the vote."

On Wednesday, voting was extended amid claims of irregularities.

The Election Commission said it had received more than 1,000 complaints, but the majority of those were about registration problems and were resolved.

The head of the Commonwealth observer mission, former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, said he hoped the registration problems would be resolved in the second round.

'Safe hands'

Correspondents say the campaign was hard fought and lively. Candidates used sea planes to canvas for votes among the hundreds of islands that make up the nation.

Mohamed Nasheed, head of the Maldivian Democratic Party
Main opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed says it is time for change

President Gayoom urged voters to elect him for a seventh term because he was a "safe pair of hands" who would keep the economy - especially its important tourism sector - functioning smoothly.

The president argued that after 30 years of his leadership, the Maldives had become South Asia's richest economy.

Mr Nasheed is one of the president's fiercest critics and a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Ahead of the election, he accused Mr Gayoom of nepotism and "dirty tricks", including what he said was the false allegation that the MDP wanted to convert everyone to Christianity.

Wednesday's election followed reforms introduced after Mr Gayoom was accused of crushing pro-democracy protests in 2004.

Correspondents say there are many problems for the eventual winner to confront, including a growing heroin problem among the young and the threat caused by rising sea levels which environmentalists say could wash the country away.


SEE ALSO
Voting extended in Maldives poll
08 Oct 08 |  South Asia
Profile: President Maumoon Gayoom
08 Oct 08 |  South Asia
Maldives adopt new constitution
07 Aug 08 |  South Asia
Attack on president of Maldives
08 Jan 08 |  South Asia
Maldives militant move condemned
18 Oct 07 |  South Asia
Country profile: The Maldives
14 Aug 08 |  Country profiles

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