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Nepal votes in final round of polls at the end of long democratic transition

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepalis began voting in the final round of parliamentary elections on Thursday, a key step to complete a near decade-long democratic transition after the abolition of the centuries-old monarchy and the end of a civil war against Maoist guerrillas.

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The first phase of the election was held on Nov. 26, with final results not expected for about another 10 days because of the cumbersome vote-counting procedure, officials said.

Officials said more than 200,000 soldiers and police had been deployed to maintain security at polling centres after one person was killed and dozens wounded in a series of small blasts in the run-up to the polls.

“Hundreds of activists, including from a splinter group of Maoists opposed to the election, have been detained for creating trouble,” army spokesman Nain Raj Dahal said.

More than 15 million people were eligible to vote for the 275-member parliament - 165 through first-past-the-post and 110 on a proportional basis in both rounds.

Voters will also choose representatives to seven state assemblies for the first time since Nepal became a federal democracy under the first republican constitution in 2015.

“The country will achieve political stability after the election ... and will move ahead solidly on the path of economic and social prosperity,” President Bidhya Devi Bhandari said in a statement.

Nepal has seen 10 government changes in as many years. Instability has given rise to corruption, retarded growth and slowed recovery from a 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people.

“I voted in hopes for a stable government that can concentrate on development and create jobs so our children don’t have to go abroad to work,” Binita Karki, 57, said after casting her ballots in a Kathmandu suburb, where armed soldiers stood nearby. Her son works on a construction site in Qatar.

The election pits the centrist Nepali Congress party of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who heads a loose alliance that includes the Madhesi parties from Nepal’s southern plains and former royalists, against a tight-knit alliance of former Maoists and the moderate Communist UML party.

The Nepali Congress party is considered a pro-India group, while the opposition alliance is seen as closer to China.

Nepal is a natural buffer between the two and the outcome could indicate whether China or India gets the upper hand in the battle for influence in a nation rich in hydropower and home to Mount Everest.

Nepal emerged from a civil war in 2006 and abolished its 239-year-old Hindu monarchy two years later.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Paul Tait