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Security beefed up as Solomons goes to polls

Agence France Presse - August 3, 2010

Solomon Islands Multinational peacekeepers and election monitors are stationed across the Solomon Islands as the impoverished Pacific nation goes to the polls today.

Security was a key priority to avoid any repeat of the riots that followed the 2006 elections, police commissioner Peter Marshall said.

An alcohol ban was in place but police did not believe there would be significant trouble, although there had been isolated incidents through the campaign.

Chief electoral officer Polycarp Haununu said in the capital, Honiara, there had been reports of stone throwing and intimidation.

"Both the Electoral Commission and the police have been very clear about the need for people to respect the law and conduct themselves in a peaceful manner," he said.

To bolster security, New Zealand sent 37 troops to join the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (Ramsi) task force.

A New Zealand travel advisory also warned the elections could become a focus for protests and although the situation was stable it "could deteriorate at short notice."

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the deployment was a "precautionary measure to ensure Ramsi has sufficient resources on the ground to assist the Solomon Islands police, which is leading election security efforts."

The Australian-led Ramsi has been in the Solomons since 2003, when it was sent to end years of ethnic conflict in which hundreds were killed.

Solomons Electoral Commission chairman Sir Peter Kenilorea said he had received reports of vote buying, with candidates paying for people to return to their home constituencies to vote.

To prevent multiple voting, which has plagued previous elections, an indelible ink has been imported from India to mark voters' fingers.

The 60 Commonwealth observers expressed reservations, saying not all of their recommendations following the 2006 election had been adopted, especially those relating to voter registration. A record 508 candidates, including current Prime Minister Derek Sikua, are standing in the 50 seats, although there will be voting in only 49 constituencies because of delays getting ballot papers to an outer island.

The Solomon Islands does not have a traditional party system and many candidates do not declare an affiliation until after the election, when the MPs vote on a prime minister, who then forms the government.

The Solomons, with a population of about 525,000, was a British protectorate until gaining independence in 1978.

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