Calm start to Senegalese poll

DAKAR - Senegalese began voting yesterday in an election which President Abdoulaye Wade hopes will extend his rule in one of Africa's most stable democracies for another five years.

Wade, who has governed the country since 2000, predicts he will win the poll in the first round, but his 14 challengers, including former allies, say this will not be possible without fraud.

They say they will dispute any first round victory by the octogenarian president, raising fears of political unrest. Senegal is one of the rare West African countries not to have experienced a coup since its independence from France in 1960.

Long queues formed outside polling stations even as they opened yesterday.

About five-million voters were registered to cast their ballots.

The predominantly Muslim nation of nearly 12million people, who live mostly from farming and fishing, extends from the edges of the Sahara desert in the north to the forests of its south Casamance province, where separatists fight a low-intensity war.

The campaign has largely been peaceful, though followers of a religious leader allied to Wade attacked supporters of a rival candidate last week, injuring three people. - Reuters