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Former Rebels Take Lead in Burundi's Parliamentary Elections

A woman cast her ballot at a polling station in Vyegwa, N'Gozi provine of Burundi
A former Hutu rebel group is leading Burundi's parliamentary election in early vote counting.

The head of the U.N. mission in Burundi, Carolyn McAskie, tells VOA international observers monitoring Monday's parliamentary elections are pleased by what they saw.

"We have met informally with most of the international observer groups, and their first impression is that they are fully satisfied that the process has not been compromised by the small number of attempted fraud," she said.

Ms. McAskie says voter turnout was between 65-70 percent, which she calls "very good by international standards."

Early results indicate a large lead for the Forces for the Defense of Democracy. The mission head estimates that the former Hutu rebel group may have captured about 70 percent of the vote.

The ruling party, Front for Democracy for Burundi, appears to have taken second place, while UPRONA, Burundi's main Tutsi party, is a distant third.

Ms. McAskie says the ruling party was surprised by the early results.

"They thought that they would do a lot better, but they did not. They were overtaken in the fast lane by the [former] rebels because of the desire I think for the population for a new approach, a new look for government," she added. "UPRONA was very much resigned to its fate, and they knew that the numbers were against them, and they had been very well behaved."

UPRONA head Jean-Baptiste Manwangari told VOA Monday that he has a lot of hope that the elections will be, in his words, "a great step for peace and stability."

About 25 political parties fielded candidates in the country's 100 constituencies.

More than three million people in Burundi were eligible to vote in Monday's 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 in June.

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, scheduled for August.

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