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Mozambique vote stirs peace hopes

Millions of Mozambicans went to the polls Friday, the second day of the country's first multiparty elections.

Perhaps the most important voter was opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama, who ended a boycott of the election by his Renamo party that had sent shock waves through southern Africa.

The vote is the culmination of a two-year U.N. effort to bring peace to Mozambique after 16 years of civil war between Renamo (the Liberation Front of Mozambique), previously backed by white governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, and the Marxist Frelimo party (Mozambique National Resistance) that has ruled since 1975. Some 600,000 people died in war, famine and disease, and the economy was wrecked before a peace agreement was signed in 1992.

The independent National Electoral Commission reported that about 80 percent of the country's 6.4-million voters had cast ballots by the end of voting Friday. The commission extended voting, which was peaceful, to a third day today.

Dhlakama, dapper in an immaculate black suit, white shirt and mauve silk tie, grinned and joked with aides as he voted in the grimy Polana secondary school in the capital, Maputo.

The former rebel leader said at a news conference later that the election commission should have allowed "five or six" extra days for voting instead of one. "The people of Mozambique would need more opportunity to vote," Dhlakama said, citing transportation difficulties in remote areas.

The Renamo leader had announced a boycott only hours before voting started Thursday, sparking fears of a resumption of civil war.

Renamo said the possibility for fraud _ people voting without being registered, the blocking of opposition party monitors from poll sites _ made it impossible to accept the result and demanded changes in procedures.

African leaders and ordinary Mozambicans had feared Mozambique might go the way of Angola, where rebels resumed a devastating civil war after rejecting defeat in elections in 1992.

Friday, after pressure from the United Nations, neighboring countries and governments abroad, Dhlakama reversed his decision.

He said at the news conference that his boycott call had saved democracy in Mozambique by making the international community aware of problems in the electoral process.

"At the moment that I voted I felt my struggle was not in vain," he said, declaring himself "the father of democracy in my country."

President Joaquim Chissano, whose Frelimo party made peace with Renamo two years ago, welcomed the decision. "This is what all of us wanted," he said. "This is a successful outcome of the efforts made by all of us."

Final election results are not expected until mid-November.

Chissano's party is expected to win but is unlikely to gain the overwhelming power it has enjoyed since 1975, when Mozambique gained independence from Portugal. Chissano, who is favored to win the presidency, has indicated he would give Dhlakama a government post. The 250 Parliament seats are expected to be filled almost exclusively by Renamo and Frelimo.

Poor roads, few telephones and large areas without electricity were just a few of the obstacles for voters who headed to 7,446 polling stations.

"It's extremely difficult . . . just in terms of transport and things like the mine fields," said Ronald Gould, head of the electoral division of the U.N. operation.