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Cambodians vote in national poll

Voters are going to the polls in Cambodia, where prime minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is expected to retain power.

The 60-year-old premier - who has been in power for 28 years - was among the early voters on Sunday.

He declined to speak to reporters after casting his ballot at polling station near his home in Takmau in Kandal province, south of the capital Phnom Penh.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy visited a polling station near his party's office in Phnom Penh, where hundreds of voters - particularly younger ones - greeted him enthusiastically, taking photos and a few bolder ones even hugging him.

"I am happy to see people flocking to vote," said Mr Rainsy - though he himself cannot vote and is not on the ballot because he failed to register in time because he was in self-imposed exile until earlier this month.

The exile was to avoid a jail term for convictions he claimed were politically motivated. He returned on July 19 only after receiving a royal pardon at the behest of the prime minister, his longstanding and bitter rival.

Mr Rainsy, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said any gains his party makes would be significant, and would set the stage for a long fight towards fair elections.

Dissidents accuse the ruling party of using the machinery of government and security forces to reward or pressure voters. They also say that voter registration procedures were badly flawed, possibly leaving more than one million people disenfranchised. The government-appointed National Election Committee insists the election process is fair.

The CCP holds 90 of the 123 seats in the outgoing National Assembly. Although eight parties are running, the CNRP and CPP are the only serious contenders.

There are 9.7 million registered voters in a population of almost 15 million. Just over half the electorate is under 30 years old. The election campaign has not been marked by the kind of violence, including killings, which plagued past polls.

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