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Polls Close in Guinea Bissau's Orderly Presidential Ballot


Polls closed in Guinea Bissau's presidential election Sunday, which monitors say was largely free and fair. People hope the ballot will help restore democracy and jump-start development in one of the world's poorest countries.

By late afternoon the lines of people waiting to cast their vote had disappeared from Guinea Bissau's streets. Voters returned home to wait for the results, which are expected to be announced on national radio and television in the next few days.

Counting ballots began immediately after polls closed at five o'clock in the evening. Forty percent of Guinea Bissau's population of around one and a half million were registered to vote for one of 13 candidates in the race.

The head of the European Union Observer mission, Johan Van Heck, said there were no major incidents of violence and intimidation.

"There was a relatively high turn-out of the population," Mr. Heck says. "The population went to the ballot boxes extremely disciplined, quiet. Mostly in general I would say that it was fairly well organized."

Mr. Van Heck said that he heard of only one incident of violence throughout the day.

"Only one incident has been reported to us, the fact that one journalist, a local journalist has been beaten by supporters of one candidate. We're still waiting for confirmation of the details of the incident but so far that one was the only incident that has been reported," Mr. Heck says.

There are three expected front-runners in this election, all veteran politicians. Kumba Yala, a former president who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2003. Joao Bernardo Vieira, a former coup leader, governed Guinea Bissau for 18 years before he was ousted by armed forces. The third of the front runners is Malam Bacai Sanha who became interim president when Mr. Vieira was overthrown in 1999.

In order to become the next president, a candidate must win 50 percent of the votes cast. If no candidates wins 50 percent of the votes, the top two contenders advance to the run-off elections to be held next month.

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