Yemenis began voting Tuesday in the first municipal elections since the country was unified in 1990.
The electorate will also vote in a referendum to extend the mandates of the president and MPs after bloody violence marred campaigning, reported AFP.
Small queues had formed outside polling centers in Sanaa the capital before they opened at eight am local time (0500 GMT), the agency said.
Around 5.6 million people over the age of 18 have the right to vote before the polls close at 1500 GMT on Tuesday which has been declared a national holiday.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling General People's Congress (GPC) has proposed constitutional amendments, rejected by the opposition, that lengthen the presidential term from five to seven years, for a maximum of two mandates, and that of members of the 301-member parliament to six years, from the current four.
The opposition has accused Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, of trying to impose one-party rule, according to the agency.
The proposed amendments also grant legislative powers to a consultative council formed in 1997 and whose 60 members are appointed by the president.
In tandem with the referendum, 120 women are running for office in the local elections out of a field of more than 23,000 candidates for 7,032 seats, the agency added.
The aim of the vote, the first since the former North and South Yemen were unified in May 1990, is to introduce a measure of decentralization in the country of 17.7 million people.
The main opposition groups, notably the Yemen Socialist Party and the Islamic party Al-Islah, have decided to boycott the referendum but are taking part in the local polls.
Thousands of local and international observers are in Yemen to monitor the elections, said the BBC.online.
The campaign has been riddled with violence that has claimed around 20 lives most when electoral debates degenerated into armed clashes between rival tribes, said reports.
A total of 60,000 police and soldiers as well as 30,000 reservists have been mobilized to enforce law and order among Yemen's heavily armed tribal population, added the reports – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )