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Uganda goes to polls in closely contested presidential elections

After some initial delays, Uganda's closest presidential elections in years got underway. Yoweri Museveni is bidding for a fifth term as Ugandan president but faces seven challengers.

Polling stations opened in Uganda on Thursday as voters decided whether to re-elect Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years. He faces challenges from his former doctor Kizza Besigye, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and five others, including one woman. Mbabazi is standing as an independent candidate. For years, he had been considered Museveni's chosen successor.

More than 15 million people are registered to vote. Ugandans are also choosing lawmakers.

There were delays reported at polling stations in Kampala on Thursday after ballot boxes were found to be missing lids. Voting at most polling stations in the capital was yet to start 90 minutes after the official opening of polling at 7 a.m. local time (0400 UTC).

Uganda Wahlen Wähler Wahlstation

Some lids to ballot boxes were found to be missing

"We are late simply because the lids for ballot boxes are not here. The boxes and the lids should have arrived at the same time," according to Moses Omo, an official who was presiding over voting at a Catholic church in the central Ugandan district of Wakiso.

Museveni was shown to be ahead in opinion polls, but he has come under pressure as his opponents drew large crowds at their rallies.

Calls for a peaceful poll

There have been calls for a peaceful poll following

tension and incidents

ahead of the vote. Concerns that there may be a repeat of the violence that followed the 2011 election led to the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative taking out a newspaper advertisement on Wednesday, saying: "We have noted with grave concern some of the animosities among the aspiring candidates from the different political parties in Uganda. If such situations are not handled with great care by all the key stakeholders in Uganda, we are all going to witness a politically motivated violence situation before or during or after the 2016 general elections."

Uganda Kirihura Präsidentschaftswahlen Wahllokal Wähler

Voters arrived early to register their votes

At least one person was killed on Monday when violence broke out after police stopped candidate Besigye from reaching scheduled rallies.

Armored military vehicles have been patrolling parts of the capital, Kampala, and up to 150,000 regular, military and auxiliary police are being deployed during the election.

Monitoring the votes

Monitors from the European Union are being led by Eduard Kukan. A ban on voters carrying mobile phones to polling stations has led to concerns this would hamper efforts to promote transparency. Kukan said he would raise this issue as well as reports of discrepancies in the voters' register with the election commission.

Uganda Kampala Präsidentschaftswahlen Wahllokal Polizei

Police are present are polling stations

The Women's Situation Room is an early warning and rapid response mechanism against violence arising before, during and after elections. Backed by the UN, it is made up of 10 representatives from Uganda and four elders and five women from African countries where similar projects have been organized during elections:

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that a weak "human rights situation seriously undermines the prospects of free and fair elections and the ability of Ugandans to exercise fundamental human rights such as free expression, assembly, and association."

Voting is scheduled to last for nine hours, ending at 4 p.m. local time (1300 UTC).

jm/sms (Reuters, AP)

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