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Tense time as votes are counted


Voters outside a polling station in Carnlough, Co Antrim

Voters outside a polling station in Carnlough, Co Antrim

Voters outside a polling station in Carnlough, Co Antrim

Politicians in Northern Ireland face several days of tense election counts after polls for the Stormont Assembly and the region's 26 local authorities close.

Steady voting was reported in many areas although turnout figures will be closely watched in the wake of a low-key election campaign.

But it will be days before nervous candidates know their fate, with votes in the Assembly election to be counted across Friday and Saturday. The task of allocating local council seats will not even begin until Monday.

The run-in to polling day was marked by an upsurge in violence by dissident republican groups opposed to the peace process. The extremists launched a series of attacks, culminating in the murder of police constable Ronan Kerr who was killed when a booby-trap bomb exploded underneath his car in Omagh, Co Tyrone last month.

Politicians and community leaders from across the religious divide united in the aftermath of the murder.

The 25-year-old policeman's family urged voters to come out in strength and cast their ballots in support of peace.

Voter turnout has been in decline in Northern Ireland, with figures dropping as the peace process has developed.

The electoral office said turnout for Assembly elections in 1998 was 69.9%, in 2003 it was 63.9% and in 2007 it was 62.9%.

Polling stations in the region's 18 Assembly constituencies opened at 7am, with the public allowed to vote up until 10pm.

But with voters filling out ballot papers for the Assembly election, the local government election and the UK-wide AV referendum, voting was reportedly taking longer than usual.