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Monday, August 13, 2007

The World Hail SIERRA LEONE For A Democratic Election

International observers commended Sierra Leone's election as well-organized and open while citizens awaited results Monday from their first presidential ballot since UN peacekeepers withdrew from the war-battered West African country two years ago.

Many Sierra Leoneans see the poll as a chance to show that they have finally emerged from a legacy of coups and a decade-long, diamond-fueled war as a multiparty state that can transfer power peacefully.

Seven candidates are vying to succeed President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Term limits prevent the 75-year-old leader from running for a third, five-year term.

The head of the electoral commission, Christiana Thorpe, said Saturday's vote finished on time and without incident at most polling centers, despite rain and long lines.

Still, there were disturbances.

Late Saturday, police used tear gas to disperse crowds of youths setting up makeshift roadblocks the east of the capital city of Freetown.

It was unclear what sparked the incident or if it was related to the polling.

Thorpe also noted ''a small number of violent incidents'' in western Freetown, and said polling was delayed in one southern town because of lost ballot boxes.

International observers said the vote appeared to go relatively smoothly and fairly.

The people of Sierra Leone were given the opportunity to ''express their will freely and in accordance with internationally accepted standards,'' said a statement by observers from British Commonwealth countries.

Observers representing the West African regional economic bloc commended Sierra Leoneans' enthusiasm, noting ''a very high turnout across the country with people queuing from as early as 4:00 am.''

Provisional results

The group concluded in its statement that ''the vast majority of voters had ample opportunity to exercise their franchise in a transparent, tranquil and orderly manner.''

Results from Saturday's presidential and parliamentary poll will be released progressively, with final tallies within 12 days of voting.

Thorpe told reporters late Sunday to expect the first provisional results Monday.

The most crucial period for the war-battered nation may come months down the road, when the public begins expecting real change from a new government.

Despite progress since the 10-year war ended in 2002, analysts say many of the root problems that caused the conflict - corruption, poverty and unemployment - remain.

Ruling party candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa, 69, is considered the front-runner.

His biggest challenger is 54-year-old opposition party chief and businessman Ernest Bai Koroma.

Also running is Charles Francis Margai, 62, a lawyer and former minister who heads a party that broke away from the ruling coalition 15 months ago.

The victor must take more than 55 per cent of the vote to avoid a run-off between the top two finishers.

***NDTV

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