Djibouti votes in parliamentary polls

The tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti held parliamentary elections Friday with opposition groups joining forces to challenge the ruling party and with the polls reported to have been calm.

For the first time in a decade, opposition groups ran as a single coalition and formed the Union for National Salvation (USN).

The ruling party Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) party reported one stone throwing incident but otherwise said there was "calm in all the polling stations".

Djibouti, with a population of some 800,000, occupies a strategic position at the entry to the Red Sea and is home to the biggest French and US military bases in Africa.

"The voting started early in the morning and has been calm and peaceful," said Fowsi Abokar, a resident and businessman in the capital, Djibouti city.

"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.

However, later in the day it was not possible to connect either by mobile or landline telephones.

"They cut the telephone network," said Hachin-Ahmed Loita, a spokesman for the opposition Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party, speaking from Paris, adding he had not been able to contact anyone in the country.

President Ismael Omar Guelleh, 65, in power since 1999 and whose UMP 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 party, which he was said was leading Djibouti towards "peace and prosperity."

Preliminary results are expected Saturday.

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 reelected for a third five-year term in April 2011 after the constitution was revised to allow him another stint in office.