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Burkina Faso votes for new president after year of upheaval

Burkina Faso has voted to choose the country's new president - one year after a major popular uprising. Millions cast their votes in what has been called the most democratic election in the nation's history.

Some 5.5 million people were registered to vote at more than 17,800 polling stations across the country. Observers said that the turnout was low in the first half of the day, picking up only in the afternoon. In other places, observers witnessed polling stations staying open after 6 p.m. local time to ensure that everyone in line to cast their ballot would be able to do so.

Despite initiatives to make the country a functional democracy, ex-president Compaore's party could nonetheless have a strong showing in the legislative election. The pro-Compaore CDP party was expected succeed in parts of the country which have traditionally been behind the former leader. But transitional president Michel Kafando appeared optimistic about the outcome of the vote, saying it was a victory for the 17 million citizens of Burkina Faso, who had waited for decades to have a democratic vote.

Watch video 01:36

Burkina Faso: First fair elections in decades

"It is a victory for the youth that has expressed its will for change and for real democracy," he said.

Roch Marc Christian Kabore, one of the front-runners in the elections, said that it was an opportunity to prove that civilians were able to rule the country.

"We have faced a lot of coups, and it is enough," he said. Kabore, 58, had served as prime minister and president of the National Assembly under Compaore.

His main rival, Zephirin Diabre, 56, was the country's minister of finance during the 1990s before he stepped down to start an opposition party.

Kabore's Movement of People for Progress (MPP) is largely made up of disaffected allies of Compaore, who had left the party months before he resigned. Diabre heads the Union for Progress and Change (UPC), which for many years was the formal opposition. Candidates have to gain more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on December 5.

Limited number of incidents

There were reports of minor problems at some of the voting stations, including shortages of voting papers and ballot boxes. Other irregularities reported during the polls included some voters not finding their names on voting lists at some of the polling stations. Campaigning in the run-up to the election had largely remained incident-free since the coup, but security measures remained tight throughout the country.

Suspected jihadist insurgents meanwhile attacked an armored van transporting money from a gold mine in northern Burkina Faso on the day of the election in the latest sign of Islamist violence spreading into the county from neighboring Mali.

A long time coming

It wasn't an easy year for Burkina Faso: a transitional government was put in place after the nation's longtime leader Blaise Compaore was forced to resign after a 27-year rule. The interim government, however, repeatedly clashed with the presidential guard - an elite military unit loyal to Compaore, leading the a coup staged in September, during which the presidential guard took transitional President Michel Kafando and his prime minister hostage.

This backdrop of political drama forced the country to reschedule its elections, which had originally been planned for October. But the coup, which lasted only a week, was the country's sixth since it gained independence from France in 1960, putting Burkina Faso's aspirations to succeed at democracy on a shaky footing.

Interim president Michel Kafando

Interim president Michel Kafando said that the election was a 'victory for the youth that has expressed its will for change and real democracy.'

The presidential guard has since been dissolved and a new electoral code has been introduced, barring both members of the interim government and prospective presidential candidates, who had supported Compaore's bid to change Burkina Faso's constitution.

More than 17,000 local and foreign observers were scheduled to monitor the election, while 25,000 soldiers and police were deployed to the streets of the capital Ouagadougou and across the country.

The West African nation has been ruled by leaders who came to power in coups for most of its history since gaining independence. A successful election could help other African nations in their aspirations for more democracy, in particular in Burundi and the Republic of Congo, where long-term rulers have been trying to extend their terms in office by pushing for constitutional changes.

ss/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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