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Burundians Vote in Parliamentary Polls

Burundians have gone to the polls Monday to vote for representatives in their parliament, who will then select the country's next president. The elections are part of a peace agreement to end more than a decade of war.

The head of Burundi's main-Tutsi party Uprona, Jean-Baptiste Manwangari, tells VOA he has high expectations of what the elections will accomplish.

"We have so much hope that that election could be a great step for peace," he said. "That is the great hope all the Burundians have - a great step for peace and stability, and we are going to do so much to have this peace and stability."

Mr. Manwangari's group, Uprona, is one of about 25 political parties fielding candidates in the country's 100 constituencies.

Other major contenders include the former Hutu rebel group Forces for the Defense of Democracy and the ruling party Front for Democracy for Burundi. The Forces for the Defense of Democracy is widely expected to lead.

The Hutu Forces for National Liberation, the only rebel group not to join the peace process, had promised the United Nations that it would not attack or disrupt the elections unless provoked. News reports indicate that, overall, voting appeared to go well.

More than three-million people in Burundi were eligible to vote in the elections, the first since civil war broke out in 1993 when members of the Tutsi-dominated army assassinated the then-Hutu president.

The war claimed about 300,000 lives.

A peace agreement signed in 2000 created a power-sharing transitional government that was to form a new constitution and hold democratic elections.

After several delays, a constitution was endorsed earlier this year. It calls for Hutus to make up 60 percent of the National Assembly and Tutsis, 40 percent. The National Assembly has 100 members, but up to 21 more can be appointed by winning parties to achieve this ethnic balance.

Municipal elections were held last month.

The National Assembly and Senate - to be formed at the end of July - is to select Burundi's next president by a two-thirds majority. The vote is scheduled for August.

Burundians are expected to vote directly for the president in the next elections, scheduled for 2010.