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Low turnout in Philippine polls

Troopers in Mindanao
Thousands of government troops have been deployed throughout polling centers in Mindanao to prevent election-related violence  

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Procedural lapses and fears of violence have tainted Monday's polls in the Philippine Southern Muslim region to replace renegade Nur Misuari as governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.

Two hours after the polls opened, election officials said turnout was very low among the 1.1 million registered voters in Mindanao.

Luzviminda Tancangco, an official with the Commission on Elections organizing the vote, said many people stayed home, fearing that Misuari's supporters, or another guerrilla group, might try to disrupt the vote with violence.

In remote areas, many residents, weakened by fasting in the Ramadan holy month, would be reluctant to walk several kilometers (miles) to polling stations, Tancangco added.

Shortly before voting started Monday, Tancangco said in radio interviews that the election commission voted to postpone elections in the restive province of Sulu.

However, Sulu election officials opened polling booths, saying the order was invalid because there had been no order by the elections chief that it should be postponed.

Sporadic violence

Misuari has been accused of mismanaging funds alloted for his area of jurisdiction  

Thousands of military troops and policemen have been deployed throughout the Southern Muslim region to avert any untoward incidents during the polls.

The military has placed some 15,000 troops on alert across the autonomous region, fearing large scale violence, but only two minor incidents had been reported as polling booths closed at 3 p.m. local time (0700 GMT).

In one incident, unidentified men exploded three home-made bombs outside a voting centre in Parang town in Maguindanao province but there were no casualties.

In Shariff Aguak, also in Maguindanao, unknown attackers lobbed a mortar shell near a public market but no one was injured, police said.

The military said it was investigating if the attacks were linked to Misuari's group.

Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu, chief of armed forces in the south, said heavy security and Misuari's arrest had prevented violence.

Misuari arrested

Misuari, the former leader of the rebel Moro National Liberation Front, was arrested Saturday by Malaysian authorities for entering the country without proper travel documents.

He fled to Malaysia together with 6 associates in an attempt to evade arrest after leading a revolt against the government by storming a military outpost last Monday.

Misuari was named governor of the autonomous region in 1996 after signing a peace agreement with the government.

A well-respected warrior, he failed to bring peace and prosperity to the poverty-stricken Muslim region.

He accused Manila of reneging on promises to extend funds and develop the region after offering autonomous rule to break up the rebellion,

But the Philippine government accused Misuari of mismanaging billions of pesos worth of funds allotted to the development of the region.

Due to this, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other regional officials have backed another candidate, Parouk Hussein.

Hussein is an MNLF official who helped oust Misuari from the leadership of the rebels.

The other is Akmad Omar, a Muslim banana magnate with reputed connections to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, another Muslim rebel group currently in peace talks with the government.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo meanwhile encouraged voters to exercise their rights, assuring the return of normalcy in the area following Misuari's arrest.


• Rebel governor nabbed in Malaysia
November 24, 2001
• Hunt for Philippine governor steps up
November 23, 2001
• Philippine army seize rebel camps
November 22, 2001
• Troops pursue Philippines rebels
November 21, 2001
• Philippine separatists may merge
November 20, 2001

• Mindanao: ARMM - The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

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