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Vote Count Begins In Sierra Leone's Elections


As vote count begins in Sierra Leone's elections, the United Nation's chief observer says she has reacted positively to the outcome, which was calm and well-organized. But tensions were high in parts of the capital, Freetown. Selah Hennessy reports from Freetown.

Votes were being counted in Sierra Leone late Saturday, after a voting process that seems to have passed with few hitches.

The chief observer of the United Nations' Election Observation Mission in Sierra Leone,Marie-Anne Isler Beguin, says she has been pleasantly surprised.

She says the people of Sierra Leone were patient despite long lines at polling stations, and polling staff at the centers were thorough. "We have seen people very well trained in the polling station, a lot of young people very enthusiastic and very serious in their job," Beguin said.

She says the next step in the election process, vote counting, will be crucial. "It will be a very sensitive time-the opening, the counting, and the tallying," Beguin said.

Already some problems over the counting process have arisen. Armed security has been provided at some polling stations, where votes are being counted and will be posted, due to tension created by youths congregating outside. According to local journalists, rumors of stolen ballot boxes are creating problems.

They report that police fired tear gas and live bullets into the air in the east of the city, after a commotion involving youths who said ballot boxes had been stolen and hidden in a school.

The spokeswoman for the National Election Commission, Matia French, says there were also some complaints of irregularities made throughout the day, but nothing has yet been confirmed. "We've been having some complaints about irregularities, but nothing major and nothing that is proven," French said.

She says a few people were accused of having extra voter ID cards, and some sample ballot boxes were misidentified leading to accusations of rigging.

Three men are vying for the presidency in Sierra Leone: current vice-president Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party;Charles Margai of the People's Movement for Democratic Change, which emerged following a rupture in the ruling party last year; and Ernest Koroma, leader of the main opposition party, the All People's Congress.

Sierra Leoneans have also voted on parliamentary representatives, in what was the country's first constinuency-based legislative election. Over 500 candidates vied for 112 seats.

These were the second democratic elections to take place in Sierra Leone since an eleven-year civil war ended in 2002, and the first since peace keepers left the country two years ago.

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