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Sierra Leone on High Alert During Vote Count


Voters in in Sierra Leone are anxiously awaiting more election results after a small percentage of the count was announced on Monday. Officials counseled patience while they increased patrols around the country and security forces threatened to shut down an opposition party radio station. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Sierra Leone police have been put on high alert as officials count the vote from Saturday's highly-contested presidential and legislative elections.

As soon as the National Electoral Commission announced late Monday that the opposition All People's Congress had a 10 percent lead over the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party in the presidential poll, the opposition's radio station reportedly started receiving celebratory calls.

Police and military authorities asked the station to stop its call-in show while the vote was being tallied.

In a national radio broadcast, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said he would not, in his words, tolerate malicious people who precipitate the chaos that engulfed Sierra Leone during 11 years of civil war.

Local journalist Kelvin Lewis said the station complied.

"They have agreed not to continue doing their phone-in sessions," he said. "People were making allegations and inciting other people."

Lewis says early predictions of an opposition victory have worried officials and increased tension.

The National Electoral Commission was widely expected to announce a significant bloc of returns. But it announced only a small percentage and has said it will take as long as necessary to tabulate all the results.

Journalist Lewis says voters vary in how they feel about an indefinite wait.

"It depends who you talk to. If you talk to an APC [All People's Congress] supporter, he would say, yes, the vote count is going well," he said. "If you talk to a SLPP [Sierra Leone People's Party] supporter, he may hit you in the face."

Officials have not reported any significant election-related violence.

According to the limited votes counted thus far, the opposition presidential candidate Ernest Koroma, of the All People's Congress, is ahead of Vice President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party. President Kabbah was not eligible to run because of term limits.

If none of the seven presidential candidates wins 55 percent of the vote, there will be a second round of voting.

While most international election observers agree that voting was largely calm and fair, some have said they are waiting until the final results are accepted by winners and losers alike before declaring the election a democratic success.

These are the first elections since peacekeepers left Sierra Leone in 2005.

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