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Vote Count Begins in Sierra Leone Presidential Runof Election


The polls have closed and the vote count has begun late Saturday in Sierra Leone's presidential runoff. Security officials have urged the public to go home and stay off the streets to prevent boiling tensions between the two competing parties. But Kari Barber reports for VOA from Freetown that people in some areas do not respond to the order.

As the polls closed, hundreds of people gathered in front of a polling station in the nation's capital Freetown pressing towards the building. Police used sticks and finally erected barricades to control the crowd.

Issa Kamara says the crowd, which he describes a mostly unemployed like himself, want to see with their own eyes that the vote count is not rigged. He says he worries the government will try to affect the outcome. "We do not trust these people because they are corrupt to us. So many elections in the past, we did not have good results," he says.

Inside the polling station poll workers count ballots, calling out the names of the two competing parties, SLPP for Sierra Leone People's Party, the party of Vice President Solomon Berewa or APC, for All People's Congress, the party of opposition leader Ernest Koroma.

Koroma led Berewa in the first round 44-percent to 38-percent.

Poll worker Mustapha Konneh says he is nervous about the crowd outside. "Well, that worried me, but they did not disturb our work," he says.

Campaigning before the first round was essentially peaceful, however in the second round the two rival parties clashed in violent confrontations in several districts. Koroma says in the east, poll observers from his party were prevented from getting to their designated polling stations. There were also skirmishes in Freetown, and both parties claim their supporters were harassed by police.

European Union Chief Observer Marie Anne Isler Beguin says while the vote is over and the process went smoothly, the most crucial time is still ahead. "The process is not finished with the end of the election, now it really the crucial moment the counting and the tallying. This is what we are waiting for, and we call on everybody to remain calm," he said.

Final results in the election are expected in the next couple of weeks.

The first round, held August 11, was the first presidential election since the withdrawal of thousands of U.N. troops in 2005. Sierra Leone is slowly recovering from its decade-long civil war in which children were drugged and forced to fight as soldiers and rebels hacked off the limbs of an untold number of civilians.

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