Islamists Claim Victory In Tunisia Election

A leading Islamist party has claimed victory in Tunisia's first democratic election, sending a message to other states in the region that long-sidelined Islamists are challenging for power after the "Arab Spring".

Official results have not been announced, but the Ennahda party said its workers had tallied the results posted at polling stations after Sunday's vote.

Almost three-quarters of those eligible to vote turned out for the first elections since the uprisings, which began in Tunisia and spread through the region.

"The first confirmed results show that Ennahda has obtained first place," campaign manager Abdelhamid Jlazzi said outside party headquarters in the centre of the Tunisian capital.

As he spoke, a crowd of more than 300 in the street shouted "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great!" Other people started singing the Tunisian national anthem.

Kamel Jendoubi, head of the electoral commission, said the turnout was "over 60% and close to 70%" by 4pm UK time on Sunday - three hours before the polls closed.

The figure was beyond expectations despite what Mr Jendoubi described as some "soft" intimidation of voters.

He said this included street demonstrations and continued campaigning on voting day - which is against the rules - and that some parties had received warnings.

The elections are Tunisia's first since a popular uprising that overthrew its longstanding leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and set off similar rebellions across the Arab world.

Mindful that some people in Tunisia and elsewhere see the resurgence of Islamists as a threat to modern, liberal values, party officials said they were prepared to form an alliance with two secularist parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.

"We will spare no effort to create a stable political alliance ... We reassure the investors and international economic partners," Jlazzi said.

Sunday's vote was for an assembly which will sit for one year to draft a new constitution. It will also appoint a new interim president and government to run the country until fresh elections late next year or early in 2013.

Meanwhile, clashes between Yemeni government troops and a renegade army unit reportedly killed 20 people.

The violence in Yemen came a day after the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

He continues to cling to power despite mass anti-government demonstrations over several months, which have left the country in chaos.

The latest deadly fighting, which officials said left at least three civilians dead, broke out in capital Sanaa early on Saturday.

In Syria, there has been fresh condemnation of violence by Syrian president Bashar Assad's security forces, who activists blame for killing at least 24 people during protests on Friday.

It did not stop the crowds from chanting: "Your turn is coming, Bashar."

The US has withdrawn its ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus because of concerns for his safety. He has been an outspoken critic of President Assad's crackdown on protesters during the country's seven-month long uprising.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the death of the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz , at the weekend has raised new questions about the future of the oil giant in the face of regional unrest.

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