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Kenya - Long lines of Kenyans queued from long before dawn to vote Monday in the first election since violence-wracked polls five years ago, with a deadly police ambush marring the key ballot.
The tense elections - and the all-important reception of the results - are seen as a crucial test for Kenya, with leaders vowing to avoid a repeat of the bloody 2007-8 post-poll violence in which over 1 100 people were killed.
Observers have repeatedly warned of the risk of renewed conflict, but the conduct of voting itself passed off peacefully with no major reported violent incidents.
Voters standing for hours in snaking lines several hundred metres (yards) long - and several people thick - crowded peacefully outside polling stations to take part in one of the most complex elections Kenya has ever held.
Early partial preliminary results showed the two frontrunners Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga with a clear lead.
Figures released just after 7:30 pm (1630 GMT) and based on some 5% of ballots cast showed Kenyatta with 400,174 votes and Odinga with 272 519.
Given that a total of 14.3 million Kenyans were registered to vote, analysts say no conclusions on nationwide trends can be drawn from the early figures.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said it had decided to immediately make public figures as and when they are sent in by polling stations.
“As soon as data hits our screens it will be made available to the media in real time,” James Oswago, IEBC executive director, told journalists before the numbers started coming in.
The results from the 2007 poll which Mwai Kibaki won against Odinga sparked a wave of protests, notably because of the absence of transparency in the way the tallying was done at that time.
Tensions were high Monday on the coast, including in the port city of Mombasa where six policemen were killed in two separate attacks, including an ambush by some 200 youths armed with guns and bows and arrows, hours before the opening of polling stations.
People began lining up from as early as 4:00 am (0100 GMT) to cast their votes. Polls officially closed at 5.00 pm (1400 GMT), although centres whose opening had been delayed - some for several hours - were to stay open to make up for the time missed.
Ahmed Issack Hassan, IEBC chairman, said there had been “challenges” faced in various parts of the country, but that any failure of electronic systems meant only that checking identification had to be done manually.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo said the Mombasa attackers were suspected members of the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), and that 400 officers were sent to beef up security in the popular tourist region.
Police have blamed the MRC for a string of attacks last year, and the group had threatened to boycott the polls.
Despite the attack, voters packed the streets in the city.
Raphael Zuma, a voter in Mombasa, said he had waited eight hours to vote in the steamy heat, but happily held up his ink stained finger after finally casting a ballot.
“I had to do it because I wanted to elect new leaders,” he said.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said the attacks “were coordinated and aimed at interrupting voting in these areas.”
A remote-controlled bomb was also set off in Mandera Ä a town in the north east on the border with war-torn Somalia where Kenyan troops are battling Al-Qaeda linked insurgents Ä but resulted in no casualties, police said.
Ä Polls held peacefully Ä
Neck-and-neck rivals for the presidency, Prime Minister Odinga and his deputy Kenyatta, have publicly vowed there will be no repeat of the bloodshed that followed the disputed 2007 polls.
Crimes against humanity trials later this year at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto have raised the stakes: should they win the vote, the president and vice-president could be absent on trial for years.
Both front-runners have said they are confident of winning the absolute majority needed to avoid a second round run off vote.
“We can win these elections in the first round... At the end of the day we will definitely be declared the winner,” Odinga said after voting in Nairobi's Kibera shanty town, the scene of some of the worst ethnic clashes after the 2007 poll.
Kenyatta, voting in his hometown of Gatundu some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Nairobi, said he was “ready and prepared for whatever outcome” Kenyans chose.
Kenyans cast six ballots, voting for a new president, parliamentarians, governors, senators, councillors and special women's representatives, with some 14.3 million registered voters and more than 30 000 polling stations.
The 2007-2008 violence exposed deep tribal divisions and widespread disenchantment with the political class and shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of regional stability.
More checks are in place this time to limit vote rigging, while a new constitution devolving powers has made the poll less of a winner-take-all race. - Sapa-AFP