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via BBC News

Voting has begun in Tunisia in the first free election of the Arab Spring, nine months after the fall of former President Zinedine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Voters will elect a 217-seat assembly that will draft a new constitution and appoint an interim government.

Islamist party Ennahda is expected to win the most votes, though it is not clear if it will gain a majority.

Mr Ben Ali fled Tunisia on 14 January amid the first of several mass uprisings across the Arab world.

Campaigning in Tunisia has been marked by concerns over splits between Islamists and secularists, party funding and voter apathy.

But as campaigning drew to a close on Friday, correspondents reported widespread optimism.

The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man whose self-immolation last December triggered the Tunisian revolt, told the Reuters news agency the election was a victory for dignity and freedom.

“Now I am happy that my son’s death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice,” Manoubia Bouazizi said. “I’m an optimist, I wish success for my country.”

“I didn’t sleep at all last night from excitement,” voter Houcine Khlifi, 62, told the AFP news agency on Sunday morning as he was queuing to cast his ballot in central Tunis.

“Tunisia today offers to the world a bouquet of flowers of liberty and dignity.”

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