Campaigning for Guinea-Bissau's post-coup presidential election is underway with the controversial former leader, Kumba Yalla, announcing that he will take part in next month's polls. His challengers are also starting to campaign amid fears of possible violence.
More than a thousand people gathered Sunday at a rally for presidential candidate Malam Bacai Sanha in Guinea-Bissau's eastern city of Gabu. Supporters, some wearing T-shirts bearing Mr. Sanha's image, listened to local musicians, and chanted "Long live the PAIGC," the acronym of their candidate's African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.
The party currently heads the interim government which was established after Mr. Yalla's ouster in 2003. It also has the most seats in the legislature.
In his speech, the party's candidate, Mr. Sanha, called for national cohesion and peace.
Campaigning officially opened Saturday for the election scheduled for June 19.
Mr. Yalla, who had been cleared to run in the election by Guinea-Bissau's Supreme Court, raised fears of violence earlier this month when he declared his intention to serve out the remaining 18 months of his interrupted mandate. At the time, he said that a new election was not necessary.
However, at a press conference at his party's headquarters in the capital, Bissau, Sunday, Mr. Yalla said he had changed his mind.
Mr. Yalla told journalists he had decided to contest the elections. He said his political enemies were trying to create obstacles to his campaign in an attempt to push him out of the race.
He said he was going ahead with his campaign despite, what he called, false accusations that he had prepared a coup. Mr. Yalla said he would do his best to prove his innocence.
Last week, Guinea-Bissau's interim President Henrique Rosa said Mr. Yalla would be held accountable for briefly seizing the presidential palace with a group of armed men before dawn on Wednesday. Mr. Yalla denied being part of the group.
About a dozen soldiers have been detained for questioning in the incident, which has led to the opening of a criminal investigation against Mr. Yalla. Police have also prevented supporters of Mr. Yalla from holding protests several times. His party has the second most seats in parliament.
Some journalists say Sunday's decision by Mr. Yalla to take part in the presidential election is motivated by a desire to avoid criminal prosecution. Under Guinea-Bissau's electoral laws, candidates are granted immunity from investigation during the process.
Another main challenger to Mr. Yalla is former military ruler Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira who is running as an independent. He is expected to kick off his campaign this week with a rally in Gabu, which, with nearly a third of the Guinea-Bissau's voters, is expected to be crucially important.
About a dozen other candidates will contest the election to replace Guinea-Bissau's interim leadership.