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Voting underway in Bahrain amid Shiite opposition boycott

AFP, Saturday 22 Nov 2014
Bahraini government opponents stage an unofficial referendum created by protesters asking people whether they support having the people choose a new political regime in Bahrain under U.N. supervision, as other protesters hold a rally in Diraz, Bahrain, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. (Photo:AP)
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Bahrainis went to the polls Saturday for the first legislative elections since a 2011 uprising, but the vote is being boycotted by the Shiite opposition that led Gulf kingdom's pro-democracy movement.

The electorate of almost 350,000 is being called to choose 40 deputies, with Sunnis making up most of the 266 candidates.

The polls are being contested without a compromise in sight between authorities in the Sunni-ruled monarchy and the opposition.

Al-Wefaq, the main opposition group, has dismissed the electoral process as a "farce" and warned that failure by the kingdom's rulers to loosen their grip on power could trigger a surge in violence.
The opposition's month-long uprising in early 2011 was crushed by the authorities.

The political rivals have struggled to bury their differences through a so-called "national dialogue" that fell apart despite several rounds of negotiations.
Polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) and are due to close at 8:00 p.m. Municipal elections are being held at the same time.

The opposition boycott means voter turnout will be a key marker of the validity of the vote.

Al-Wefaq chief Sheikh Ali Salman has predicted a maximum turnout of 30 percent, saying the boycott stems from "the people's demand for democratic reforms".
A second round of voting will be held next Saturday.

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