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Somaliland Voters Head to Polls


Voters in the self-declared republic of Somaliland in northwestern Somalia are going to the polls for parliamentary elections. Hopes are high that the elections will open the door for international recognition.

The European Commission's Somalia operations manager, Richard Hands, says EC election monitors in Somaliland reported late Wednesday that elections were proceeding well. He tells VOA the run-up to the elections was largely positive and bodes well for the process.

"I think one of the great successes has been to secure an agreement amongst all the political parties on a code of conduct, to which all three have signed up, and also a sort of code of practice for the media, which has also been adapted and approved a few weeks ago," he said. "All the indications are that, broadly, people have abided by the agreements."

About 800,000 of the breakaway region's 3.5 million people are eligible to vote in the elections.

Three parties are fielding candidates for 82 seats in parliament. There are more than 900 polling stations in the mostly semi-desert area, and at least 70 international observers from South Africa, the European Commission, and other places are on the ground monitoring the voting.

There had been some rough spots in the weeks leading up to the elections. Earlier this month, police seized a stash of fake ballot papers at Somaliland's main airport. On the same day, there was a shoot-out between police and several al-Qaida suspects, who were eventually arrested.

Once a British protectorate, Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

Since then, there have been three elections, with Thursday's polls being the first to elect Members of Parliament.

Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin was quoted in news reports urging the international community to recognize Somaliland as an independent country, and saying he hopes the elections will open the door to such recognition.

The European Commission's Mr. Hands says that, for the time being, Somaliland is not being recognized as a separate country. But, he says, the international community is impressed with the area's progress.

"This initiative, these elections, are being funded by a broad range of different international donors. There is considerable, I think, encouragement for the initiative in itself," he added. "This is in line with the stated and agreed policy across the board, I think, as far as the international community is concerned, that we will support and encourage governance initiatives wherever they may come to fruition throughout Somalia."

Election results are expected to be announced next week.

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