Counting underway after Sierra Leone vote

Ballot counting was underway Sunday across Sierra Leone after the west African country voted in presidential and parliamentary elections seen as a test of whether it has fully emerged from its decade-long civil war.

Counting underway after Sierra Leone vote
Ballot counting was underway Sunday across Sierra Leone after the west African country voted in presidential and parliamentary elections seen as a test of whether it has fully emerged from its decade-long civil war.

Voting was peaceful, although some polling stations opened late and many people had to wait in long lines under the rain to cast their ballots. Armed police were deployed in parts of Freetown after youths tried to disrupt vote counting.

Partial results were due to begin coming in Sunday morning, with Vice President Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) expected to face a stiff challenge from Ernest Koroma of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) party for the post of president.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who has led the country for two five-year terms, was not eligible to stand for re-election.

Police assistant inspector-general Richard Moigbeh said youths wanted to storm one centre where counting was underway in the eastern part of the capital Freetown.

"When police reinforcements were deployed there, the youths started getting rowdy and we thought the best option was to use a few cannisters of tear gas to disperse them and it worked," he told AFP.

Groups of young people also gathered outside other polling stations and disrupted the counting of votes, said the head of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Christiana Thorpe.

"Armed security has now been provided to all polling stations in this area so that counting can continue," she told a news conference.

Some 2.6 million voters were eligible to pick a new president and lawmakers, six years after the end of the Sierra Leone's brutal civil conflict.

Long queues of voters snaked on muddy grounds outside the country's 6,171 polling stations, but by closing most voters had been able to cast ballots.

Although seven political parties fielded candidates, the real battle is between the two main parties, SLPP and APC, that have ruled the country the longest since independence from Britain in 1961.

Sierra Leone is ranked the second poorest country on earth, despite its huge mineral wealth, including diamonds.

If none of the presidential hopefuls garners at least 55 percent of the ballots cast, a second round of voting will take place.

Legislators are elected by a simple majority, and 566 candidates stood for the 112 seats in the single-chamber parliament.

The elections are only the second since the country emerged from one of the most brutal wars in modern history, and the first poll Sierra Leone has organised after some 17,500 UN peacekeepers pulled out of the country in 2005.

A civil war ravaged Sierra Leone between 1991-2001, claiming 120,000 lives, while hundreds of thousands of survivors suffered horrors at the hands of rebels, financed by so-called blood diamonds.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement issued late Friday that "free, fair and credible elections ... are crucial to securing the peace that has been built" and to pave way for development and prosperity.

Complete preliminary results are expected by the end of the week.

AFP
Last Mod: 12 Ağustos 2007, 10:35
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