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Voting Begins in Chad Election

Voters in Chad have headed to the polls today in the first round of a controversial presidential election. Polling stations in the capitol opened on time and the city remains calm, despite earlier fears of violence.

Voters began casting their ballots just after 7:00 a.m. in polling stations throughout N'Djamena. But there is little traffic on the streets and crowds have been generally small at voting centers.

Incumbent president Idriss Deby arrived accompanied by a heavily-armed security detail to vote at a polling station at the Ministry of Agriculture in central N'Djamena.

After casting his vote, he told journalists that he has kept his word in going ahead with the polls and that nothing would happen to hinder the process.

A coalition of 20 opposition parties has called upon Chadians to stay home. They say Mr. Deby, who pushed through a constitution referendum to allow himself to stand for a third five-year term, should not be allowed to run.

The African Union and European Union have asked to delay the vote. They have called for the president to open dialogue with the opposition and the rebel United Front for Change, which attacked N'Djamena less than three weeks ago in a failed attempt to topple Mr. Deby.

Rumors have circulated for the past week, that the rebels were preparing to attack the capital again. And, many feared there could be problems on election day, but there have been no reports of violence.

Mr. Deby is facing four opponents: two ministers in his government; the two others are members of parties allied with the President's Patriotic Movement for Salvation. Opposition leaders say they have little doubt the president will win the election, but they say a victory in such circumstances will lack legitimacy in the eyes of both the Chadian people and the international community.

The African Union and the International Organization of French Speaking Countries both have election observer teams in Chad for the polls. Other independent election observers have stayed away.

A former rebel leader, Mr. Deby came to power after overthrowing his predecessor, then-president Hissene Habre, in 1990. Chad has yet to experience a non-violent transfer of power since gaining independence from France in 1960.