Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Sierra Leoneans cast their votes in presidential runoff

AFP , FREETOWN

Sierra Leoneans went to the polls yesterday in what was expected to be a close presidential election runoff in the west African country, which emerged from a brutal civil war only six years ago.

Political tensions have been rising since the results of the first round were announced two weeks ago showing ruling party candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa trailing second to opposition politician Ernest Koroma.

Some 2.6 million voters were registered to pick a new president to succeed President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who led the country for two five-year terms during and after the war, and is legally barred from seeking a third term.

The election went into a second round after the two politicians -- Koroma, 53, and Berewa, 69 -- failed to garner the minimum 55 percent of ballots required for an outright win.

While Koroma, from the former ruling All People's Congress (APC) party, and Berewa both rallied support with pledges to boost the economy, develop basic infrastructure and fight endemic corruption, tribal politics which has fueled conflict in the country was expected to heavily affect voting patterns.

The former British colony, which lies on the coast of west Africa, has a population of some 5.5 million, is ranked the second most poverty-stricken country in the world.

It gained notoriety for the barbarity of its diamond-fueled civil war, in which thousands had their limbs hacked off and 120,000 people were killed.

Campaigning for the presidential runoff was marred by violence, which left dozens injured and forced police to rope in the military for added security.

Some 6,150 polling stations were to be open from 7am through 5pm.

The elections are only the second since the end of the civil war and the first Sierra Leone organized after some 17,500 UN peacekeepers pulled out in 2005.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called on all Sierra Leonean parties "to refrain from activities that could endanger peace and stability."

Several hundred foreign observers, drawn from groups including the EU, African Union and the regional bloc ECOWAS, are monitoring the election.

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