Sierra Leone voted yesterday in watershed presidential and parliamentary elections seen as a test of whether the west African nation has turned a page from its decade-long civil war.
Voters began queuing in the pre-dawn hours outside the country's 6,171 polling stations, many of which opened later than the official 7am start, creating some chaotic scenes as people became restless with the delays.
Miatta French, spokeswoman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), explained that some areas were not considered safe enough to keep polling materials overnight, so delivery took place early yesterday. Rain-soaked roads from recent storms also did not help getting ballot papers everywhere on time.
The incumbent vice president and ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Solomon Berewa, was forced to make a U-turn when he turned up at a polling station in Freetown, as crowds of impatient voters crammed the entrance, shouting "we want to vote," a correspondent at the scene reported.
Berewa would return to cast his vote later in the day, his aides said.
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.
The elections are the first Sierra Leone has organized after some 17,500 UN peacekeepers pulled out of the country in 2005.