Tight security as Somaliland votes

2010-06-26 10:11

Hargeisa - The self-proclaimed state of Somaliland closed its borders on Saturday as voters chose their president amid fears Islamists from neighbouring Somalia could try to disrupt the polls.

The northern territory has been more stable than Somalia since it broke away in 1991 but a message warning voters to stay home by the leader of the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab movement drew draconian security measures.

"All our country's forces are locking the borders. Movements and transport inside Somaliland are also forbidden except for those authorised by the national election commission (NEC)," police chief Mohamed Saqadi Dubad said.

Somaliland, which is more tribally homogenous than the rest of Somalia, has been striving to attain international recognition for almost two decades and many voters saw the election as a fresh opportunity to demonstrate their aspiring state's democratic credentials.

In the capital Hargeisa, queues started forming in the middle of the night, hours before polling stations opened.

"I will travel to my polling station now and sleep there," said Ismail Maalin Mohamoud, a tailor, as he prepared to set off late on Friday. "I want to vote for Kulmiye," he said.

Kulmiye, which won the largest number of seats in the latest parliamentary elections, is the party of Ahmed Mohamed Silaanyo, seen as President Dahir Riyale Kahin's main rival in Saturday's poll.

The Justice and Welfare party is the country's third parliamentary force and its leader Faisal Ali Warabe the other top contestant.

Earlier this week, overall Shebab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, a native of Somaliland, issued an audio message warning the breakaway state's population that they would "face the consequences" if they cast their ballot.

"Do we say yes to Allah and accept his ruling or follow the infidels who want to lead us in the path of the evil?", Godane said.

Somaliland has strong ties with Shebab arch-foe Ethiopia.