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First Post-War Polls Held  in Sri Lanka's Tamil North

Sri Lanka on Saturday held the first elections in 11 years in two northern Tamil-majority cities near the nation's former war zone.

No violence was reported, but turnout for the municipal-council elections was light in both Jaffna and Vavuniya. Election monitors and government officials had differing estimates of how many ballots were cast, but it was clear that turnout in many districts was well below 50 percent of eligible voters.

Independent media were barred from entering the region to observe the vote - a move criticized by international rights group Reporters Without Borders - and opposition parties said campaign workers had to obtain special permission to enter the two cities.

Government officials say the elections are another step toward strengthening democracy in Sri Lanka, following 25 years of civil war between Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lanka's armed forces - a conflict that killed more than 80,000 people.

Both Jaffna and Vavuniya are near territory once held by Tamil separatist rebels, but the two cities are now encircled by government troops.

Sri Lanka's civil war ended in May with the rebels' defeat, but brutal fighting during the final weeks of the conflict caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

An election also was held in Uva province, south of the two Tamil-majority cities.

First results of the voting are expected Sunday.