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Djibouti votes in parliamentary polls

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Parliamentary polls in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti opened peacefully Friday, residents said, with opposition groups joining forces to challenge the ruling party.

This is the first poll since 2003 in which opposition groups have decided to forge a coalition together, taking part as the Union for National Safety (USN).

"The voting started early in the morning and has been calm and peaceful, we have not heard any reports of any violence," said Fowsi Abokar, a resident and businessman in the capital, Djibouti city.

Djibouti, with a population of less than one million, occupies a strategic position at the entry to the Red Sea and is home to the biggest French and United States military bases in Africa.

"The process of the election has been orderly, people did not have to queue for very long," said Abdulahi Jama, who said voters at some polling stations in the desert villages outside the capital had already finished.

President Ismael Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999 and whose Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) party held all 65 seats in the last parliament, said the elections were a "milestone for the democratisation" of the country.

Guelleh, in a message broadcast Friday on national television, urged citizens to vote for his UMP, which he was said was leading Djibouti towards "peace and prosperity."

Djibouti, an arid and extremely hot country, derives most of its revenue from its port, from land rented out for the Western military bases as well as from livestock and the banking sector.

Guelleh -- only the second president since independence from France in 1977 -- was re-elected for a third five-year term in April 2011 after the constitution was revised to allow him another stint in office.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130222/djibouti-votes-parliamentary-polls