Sierra Leoneans are voting in a landmark presidential runoff Saturday amid tensions in which the opposition party says their members are being harassed and intimidated. The first round of the presidential election saw little violence, but the second round has been marked by clashes between the rival parties. Kari Barber reports from Freetown that police have arrested several people they say were intent on using violence to disrupt the election, the first since U.N. troops withdrew in 2005.
Police opened the back of a sport utility vehicle to reveal a pile of stones, bottles and other materials they say the men and one woman they arrested were planning to use to disrupt the elections. They say one of the men had a knife.
Ahmed Conteh, an election observer with Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, says the group chased him in their car after an argument about polling procedures.
"I said you want to kill me? Because of what? Because I am coming here to help my people to get freedom, is this why you want to kill me?," said Conteh.
The commanding officer on the scene says the incident happened just as presidential candidate Ernest Koroma, of the opposition All People's Congress, was passing by. She says Koroma may have been the target. Koroma's main opponent is Vice President Solomon Berewa of the ruling party.
At the polling site in Freetown where Koroma voted, he said his party's poll watchers were being harassed and prevented from going to their polling stations in Kailahun, near the Sierra Leone and Liberia border.
"We had to put out a team, because the local agents were harassed and it got to the point they feared for their lives," said Koroma.
Koroma says he will wait until the election is over before deciding if he will accept the results
"I have always made the point that an election that is credible should be accepted, but an election that is not credible it is not for me to say I will accept or not," said Koroma. "It is the people of this country that will react to an election that is not credible."
Vice President Berewa also voted in the capital. He said he is confident that he will win.
In the first round, held August 11, Koroma led Berewa 44 percent to 38 percent.
Chief observer for the European Union, Marie Anne Isler Beguin, says the atmosphere at the polling stations reflects the importance of the election.
"They are much more serious, we can see there is a tension when they vote," said Isler Beguin.
Isler Beguin says despite the difficulties, the runoff has been well organized and voters are moving through the lines in an efficient and calm manner.
Voter Mariama Koroma, no relation to the candidate, says intimidation and violence will not keep her from voting.
"It is very important for me to vote," said Koroma. "I am voting for Sierra Leone's security. I am voting for provisions. I am voting for a better life for my children."
Key issues in the election are access to basic services such as electricity as well as high unemployment, especially among ex-combattants from the nation's brutal civil war that ended in 2002. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the highest rates of corruption.
Final results from the election are expected to be announced within two weeks.