Nepal's leaders had called for calm after the election campaign was marred by fighting and a series of small bombings. In the two days before the vote, eight people were killed.

Security high

Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the UN mission in Nepal, said: "There have been reports of incidents in some constituencies across the country, but so far in a relatively small number of areas."

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About 135,000 police, some in helicopters, had been deployed across the the country for the polls.

Maoists attempted to take over a polling station in the central town of Galkot, before setting it alight, according to a local official.

Bhawani Prashad Parjuli said that police arrested 15 men after the attack, confiscating three grenades and a knife.

About 67 per cent of the 17.6 million voters cast ballots, many of lining up before dawn outside the 20,000 polling stations.

In some places, there was applause as voting got under way and when it ended.
 
"This is our chance to stop the bleeding," Arpana Shrestha, a 47-year-old housewife waiting to vote in the capital Kathmandu, said.

"Always there was blood in Nepal. Not anymore."

Peace deal
 
The vote was the climax of a 2006 peace deal with the country's Maoist rebels which brought them into mainstream politics and ended a decade-long civil war in which at least 13,000 people have died.

Prachanda, the Maoist leader, was greeted with flowers and cheering crowds when he voted.

"We are making new history for Nepal and it is fantastic," he said.
The assembly's first tasks will be to abolish the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy and rewrite the constitution.

King Gyanendra, who came to power in 2001 after much-loved former King Birendra and most of the rest of the family were massacred by the crown prince, did not appear in public on polling day.

 

"The post-poll period will likely be difficult and dangerous," the International Crisis Group, which monitors security issues in different countries, said in a report.

 

"Parties will trade allegations of fraud and violence. The behaviour of powerful losers will shape the immediate aftermath."

Results are not expected to be announced for several days.