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Ruling party claims election victory

Botswana's ruling party has claimed victory in the country's general election, extending President Ian Khama's rule over the world's largest diamond producer for another five years.

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AFP - President Ian Khama's ruling party on Saturday claimed victory in Botswana's parliamentary polls that will return the tough-talking leader to the helm of world's biggest diamond producer.

"We are the new government again. We have reached 29 seats," the party's election committee member Langston Motsete told AFP with state radio confirming the win.

The party which was expected to sweep Friday's vote called victory with 29 of 35 seats, with the main opposition Botswana National Front and its offshoot, the Botswana Congress Party, both taking three seats.

Electoral authorities had not yet declared the BNP victory but the latest count gave the party 28 seats out of 34 counted so far, a spokesman told AFP. Another 23 seats had yet to be counted.

This year's polls in Botswana were the toughest yet with bitter infighting in the ruling party, which has ruled since independence in 1966, and an economy hard hit by falling diamond revenues.

The BDP was expected to remain in charge with little contest from a weak opposition, after overseeing four decades of stability, despite growing unease over Khama's leadership style, said to be authoritarian and non-consultative.

The tough-talking Khama is popular abroad, having often broken ranks with regional leaders' timid approach to criticise democratic abuses by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

Khama told AFP this week Harare's fragile unity government was "limping along" and faced a real danger of collapsing, warning he would not recognise a Mugabe-only government.

Africa's flagship democracy Botswana is often hailed for its stability on an often volatile continent, in sharp contrast to neighbouring Zimbabwe where failed elections last year were accompanied by violence and economic crisis.

An observer mission from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc said polls had been peaceful and calm with no reports of intimidation.

"It was a peaceful way of voting... everything was really calm," said Henrique Banze, deputy foreign minister of Mozambique and leader of the 88 SADC observers.

Despite a strong growth rate, the global recession has provided a wake-up call to Botswana, highlighting the urgency to diversify the economy from diamonds which contribute a third of the nation's gross domestic product.

Khama, 56, the son of Botswana's founding father and chief of its largest tribe who remains hugely popular in rural areas, faces several challenges as his government battles high levels of poverty and unemployment.

Despite the diamond wealth, the industry only employs just over 5,000 people and unemployment and inequality are high, with 47 percent of the population living on less than one dollar a day.

Botswana has the world's second-highest rates of AIDS, with one in four adults estimated to carry the HIV virus.

Around 725,000 people were registered to vote at 2,288 polling stations around the country.

Parliament is made up of 57 parliamentary seats with an additional four lawmakers appointed by the president and the winning party will need 29 seats to name their president.

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