GHANA

Voting underway in key constituency of Tain

Voting is underway in Ghana's remote farming region of Tain in a decisive presidential run-off. Voting opened despite a boycott by the ruling party - trailing narrowly in the election - who tried to get the vote postponed.

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AFP - Voting was under way Friday in a remote farming region of Ghana in a contested poll that may determine the outcome of the presidential election in the west African country.

Polling stations in the constituency of Tain in the region bordering Ivory Coast were set to stay open until 5:00 pm (1700 GMT), but Ghana's ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) has called on its supporters to boycott the vote.

An AFP photographer said agents of the ruling party were absent from polling stations.

Ghana state radio reported that NPP agents on Thursday night toured towns and villages in Tain with a loudhailer calling on their supporters to boycott the vote.

NPP officials were not answering phone calls early Friday.

If Tain's 50,000 registered voters turn out to cast their ballots, they will be decisive in determining the next leader of this country, seen as an example of democracy in volatile west Africa.

Partial results so far have shown opposition presidential candidate John Atta-Mills holding a lead of around 23,000 votes over his ruling party rival Nana Akufo-Addo.

Tain is the last of 230 constituencies nationwide to vote, after problems with distributing ballot papers halted participation in Sunday's runoff poll.

Akufo-Addo won the first round of voting on December 7, but not with enough votes to make him the outright winner.

Thursday the ruling NPP went twice to court in a bid to stop first the final election results being announced and then the Tain election taking place.

First the NPP sought to bar the electoral commission from declaring the results of Tain until NPP's charges of irregularities in an opposition stronghold were probed. But the court said it would hear the case on Monday, two days after the election was to have been held.

NPP later returned with a fresh petition seeking to have the election delayed on the grounds that the conditions in Tain were not conducive to a free and fair poll.

The ruling party said the court ruled in its favour, but opposition lawyers disagreed.

"No orders were given that it (the Tain vote) should be suspended," NDC lawyer Tony Lithur told AFP, adding "no injunction has been granted".

He said the court ordered NPP to first serve notice of its intention on the electoral commission and the NDC and the return to court on Monday.

Reporters in Tain said the situation was calm and voting was going ahead peacefully.

Stakes have been high in the race to choose the man who will be governing the former British colony, known as the Gold Coast before independence in 1957, when it starts pumping oil in 2010.

The election, which will choose a successor to John Kufuor, one of Africa's most respected leaders who has to stand down after two terms, is the country's fifth since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

International bodies who have deployed observer missions to monitor the Tain elections include the European Union and the West African grouping the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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