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Northern Iraq Voter Turnout Strong From Outset

Erbil, Iraq (VOA) -- Voters in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq have been turning out in large numbers to take part in the country's election. VOA's Jeffrey Young has been tracking the balloting at a number of polling stations in the city of Erbil.

The polls opened at seven a.m. Sunday, just one hour after the end of a nationwide overnight curfew. Despite the chill, people started coming to the balloting stations immediately.

The lines of voters waiting to cast ballots soon grew lengthy. Men were sent to stand to one side, the women to another before entering the stations. Every person was searched carefully before being allowed to proceed.

So far, the voting has been peaceful, despite warnings by insurgents that the election would be disrupted.

The spectrum of who has come to vote is wide, from those just 18 years old, the minimum age, to the very elderly. People pushed invalids in wheelchairs to the polls, and helped along others having trouble walking. At one polling place, several people carried a crippled man in their arms so he could vote.

The ballot itself is huge. There are some more than 100 separate political parties, each fielding a large number of candidates. But in the Kurdistan Region, two parties predominate: the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Before the election these two parties joined together to field a common slate. The tactic is meant to try and place as many Kurdish representatives in the new National Assembly, both to strengthen the Kurd's political voice in Baghdad and to help ensure that when Iraq's new constitution is written later this year Kurdish interests such as continued autonomy are preserved.

To ensure people do not vote more than once, each voter must dip a finger in indelible blue ink. And people leaving the voting stations are holding those fingers high, to show they have taken part in Iraq's first free balloting in half a century.

By Jeffrey Young


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