Burkina Faso voters cast ballots to decide on President Blaise Compaore's re-election bid

Voters stood in line peacefully to cast ballots Sunday in Burkina Faso's presidential election _ a race incumbent President Blaise Compaore, who has ruled for nearly two decades, was expected to win.

Compaore faced 11 contenders, after the opposition failed to rally around a single candidate. Residents say 54-year-old Compaore's firm grip on power since his 1987 coup has made his party a daunting political machine.

Compaore cast his ballot at a nursery school in Ouagadougou, accompanied by his wife and brother.

"I hope all continues to go well as it started," he told reporters.

Nearly 4 million of the West African nation's 12 million people were registered to vote at some 12,000 polling centers across the dusty, impoverished nation, Electoral Commission Chairman Moussa Michel Tapsoba said.

"I have already accomplished my civic duties. We pray to God that the election ends without any problems," said Abdoulaye Drabo, 36, showing off his index soaked in indelible ink, proof that he had voted.

People waited in long lines outside schools in the capital, some seeking shade under trees as the scorching sun emerged.

"I hope all goes well," said Mamounata Ninkiema, 25, a journalism student.

Compaore, long accused of helping fuel armed conflict across West Africa, won two previous elections for seven-year terms. In the West African nation's first multiparty presidential election in 1991 was marked by widespread violence.

Subsequent votes have been held peacefully, including the 1998 presidential vote in which Compaore won 87.5 percent. But recent violence in nearby countries in Africa, including Ivory Coast and Togo, where scores were killed, has raised fears among residents of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.

Tapsoba told The Associated Press that "in general, the voting process went well."

Most polls closed on time at 1800GMT, and polling agents began counting ballots immediately, Deputy Electoral Commission Chairman Michel Karama said. Results were not expected for several days.

The opposition said Sunday that Compaore should not have been allowed to run for a third, consecutive term, according to new election laws limiting presidents to just one term in office.

But the high court ruled that the new law went into effect in 2000, after Compaore's last electoral victory, and so did not apply to him.

Opposition candidate Herman Yameogo withdrew from the polls last month in protest at Compaore's candidacy.

The new governing mandate is five years, instead of seven.

An outright winner must win a majority of votes Sunday to forestall a second-round vote among the two top candidates. A second round, if there is one, must be held within 15 days.

Burkina Faso is among the world's poorest countries, with high rates of unemployment and illiteracy. The country was buffeted for decades by military coups after gaining independence from France in 1960, AP reported. V.A.

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