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Djiboutian Vote a Peaceful One

December 19, 1997

DJIBOUTI (AP) _ Djiboutians chose new lawmakers Friday in the second multiparty elections since the former French colony in the Horn of Africa gained independence in 1977.

State Radio Djibouti said that by mid-day 30 percent of the voters had cast their ballots for 65 National Assembly members in the small country wedged in between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

State radio reported the voting was calm. First official results were expected Saturday.

The 1992 national constitution, approved during a lull in a three-year civil war between the two ethnic groups _ the Issa, who are ethnic Somalis, and the Afar, nomadic herders living north of the Gulf of Tadjourah _ limits the number of political parties to four.

Among the main issues in the elections is the degree to which it is being conducted in accordance with democratic principles.

No international monitors are observing the process, and three unregistered parties have called for a boycott, claiming the whole exercise is ``a masquerade.″

In 1992, the ruling Popular Assembly for Progress of President Hassan Gouled Aptidon won all 65 seats and nearly 77 percent of the popular vote. More than half the eligible voters abstained, and electoral observers from France, the Organization of African Unity and the Arab League expressed skepticism about whether the vote was fair and open.

The Popular Assembly is fielding a common list of candidates in all five districts with a faction of the former rebel Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy.

Aptidon has been obliged by France and the International Monetary Fund to demobilize 9,000 veterans of the 1991-94 civil war, a highly unpopular move that may cost his party votes.

The Democratic Renewal Party, which has a large following among opponents of Aptidon, is fielding 55 candidates. The National Democratic Party is only fielding candidates in a six-seat district near the Somali border.

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