Parliamentary elections are underway in Yemen where security is very tight and citizens are being warned the elections will be shut down if there are any acts of violence. Seventy percent of Yemen's voters are expected to take part in elections that the government hopes will show there is a democratic process in the country, which has been a haven for Islamist militants.
With 100,000 Yemeni soldiers maintaining security and 175 international observers in place, more than eight million Yemeni men and women are expected to vote in the parliamentary elections.
Yemen's president (Ali Abdullah Saleh) warned people not to engage in acts of violence, saying voting polls would be shut down if any trouble erupts. More than ten people were killed and dozens injured during municipal elections in 2001.
Voters are choosing from among 1,200 candidates contesting 301 seats in Yemen's parliament. Observers say in light of the U.S. led war against Iraq, the government is eager to show Washington that Yemenis have a say in how their country is run. Twenty two political parties are being represented, and there are a number of independent candidates.
The General Peoples Congress controls Yemen's parliament and is fielding the most candidates with 297. The two main opposition parties, the Socialist Party and the Islamic Reform Party, are expected to wage strong challenges with a total of 364 candidates. But, because the General Peoples Congress uses public funds to back its own representatives, political observers in Yemen say it is likely to maintain control of the parliament.
Yemen, home to many Islamist militants and extremist groups sympathetic to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network, has cooperated closely with Washington's war on terror. Washington has funded training for elite Yemeni security forces.
Many Yeminis carry weapons, and outbreaks of violence, mostly linked to family or tribal disputes, are common. Yemen's Interior Ministry has warned that anyone found to be carrying a weapon inside an election-related building will be prosecuted.
Sunday's parliamentary elections in Yemen are the third to be held since North and South Yemen unified in 1990. The last such election was six years ago.