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Africa
Guinea holds first free election
Presidential poll ends peacefully with observers reporting high voter turnout.
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2010 20:06 GMT
The military has pledged to back whoever wins Sunday's presidential election in Guinea [Reuters]

Guinea's presidential election, described as the West Africa nation's first free vote after decades of military rule, has passed off peacefully.

International observers said the turnout was high on Sunday, with long queues seen in front of polling stations.

"Voting is peaceful, orderly and there is a sense of excitement," Yakubu Gowon, the former Nigerian leader heading the observation mission of the US-based rights group Carter Center, told reporters. He estimated the voter turnout to be between 75080 per cent.

"For the first time in Guinea's history, the military has been called upon to act as guardians of democracy rather than suppressors of the people," Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from Conakry, the capital, said.

Our correspondent described the prevailing sentiment throughout the country as one of "massive enthusiasm".

Almost 4000 local and foreign observers were deployed for the election in a country with a population of 10 million.

Vigorous campaign

Campaigning has been vigorous, with posters plastered on walls and candidates holding boisterous rallies in the streets.

"A compressed timetable for the elections has generated some irregularities and some technical challenges," Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday.

"But the defence ministry's promise to keep the military in barracks during the election period, and to back whoever wins is a very positive sign."

IN DEPTH

 A force for democracy in Guinea
 Background: Tensions in Guinea
 

The top contenders are thought to be Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure, two former prime ministers and Alpha Conde, a longtime government opponent, but with 24 candidates in the running, Sunday's vote is unlikely to produce a clear winner.

Results are expected by Wednesday, after which the front runners are expected to form alliances in a bid to win voters for a July 18 run-off.

More than 4.2 million Guineans have registered to vote, including more than 112,000 in 17 foreign countries in Africa, Europe and the US.

Guinea gained independence from France in 1958 and has since been ruled by a succession of civilian and military dictators.

It is a country "rich in minerals yet riddled with poverty", Al Jazeera's Simmons said.

It is the world's top bauxite producer, a mineral needed to produce aluminum, and also holds significant deposits of diamonds, gold and iron ore.

Stadium carnage

A military government led by Moussa 'Dadis' Camara gained international notoriety in September 2009 after army units opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators gathered in a Conakry stadium.

Security forces massacred more than 150 people, wounded 1,000 others and raped some 100 women.

That carnage acted as a turning point in the country's turbulent history.

"It is remarkable to that think that only nine months ago, the Guinean army slaughtered many opposition supporters and raped women in a football stadium," our correspondent said of Sunday's polls.

In December 2009, Camara was shot by an aide. He survived but was forced into exile as part of a tenuous peace deal.

General Sekouba Konate, Camara's deputy, appointed a civilian prime minister and established a civilian-led transitional governing council, paving the way for a new constitution and Sunday's elections.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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