Nepalis Head to Polls in Historic Vote

OKHARPAUWA, Nepal -- Praying that it will bring their country lasting peace after a decade of war, Nepalis trekked and lined up from dawn Thursday to cast their vote in a historic election, the country's first in nine years.

The mood was largely enthusiastic and turnout relatively high as Nepalis voted for a 601-member assembly that is supposed to write a new constitution, abolish a 240-year Hindu monarchy and serve as a parliament for at least two years.

The vote is the centerpiece of a 2006 peace deal with Maoist guerrillas to end a decade-long civil war, and marks the transformation of the rebels into a legitimate political party.

Peace was the first word on almost every voter's lips.

"We came for peace," said Chini Phuyal, 50, who trekked for three hours to reach a polling station perched on a steep, terraced hillside near the village of Okharpauwa.

"The main thing is that people should not get killed," she said, dressed in a bright red saree commonly worn by married women in the countryside.

One person was killed on Thursday in a clash between rival party workers at a polling booth in Nepal's southeastern plains, but observers and officials said the election, guarded by around 135,000 police, was passing off largely peacefully.

The Election Commission said it had ordered repolling in six out of more than 20,000 polling centers, after clashes or threats to voters and officials. But a home ministry spokesman said the vote had been "unexpectedly smooth" and very enthusiastic.

Violence and intimidation had marred the campaign, with Maoists in particular accused of threatening voters and rival party workers. At least 12 people were killed in election-related violence in the run-up to the poll, including two candidates.