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Presidential Vote Count Begins in Sierra Leone


Votes are being tallied from Sierra Leone's runoff election Saturday to determine the country's next president. Both the opposition and the ruling party are claiming the lead in the country's first presidential election since U.N. peacekeepers left two years ago. Phillip Wellman reports for VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Final results are expected to be announced in a few days, but early unofficial counts by Sierra Leone's Independent Radio Network say opposition candidate Ernest Koroma of the All People's Congress is taking an early lead.

But Sierra Leone People's Party candidate Solomon Berewa is also claiming to be in the lead, according to his tallies.

The National Electoral Commission is providing results, as they come in, to the candidates so they can do their own tallies. It is part of the commission's efforts to make the parties feel confident in the transparency and fairness of the count.

Despite party claims of intimidation and harassment on the day of voting, international monitors say the process was fair, credible and a step forward for a war-ravaged country.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah says he will step down after serving the maximum two terms allowed.

The Africa director for the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. monitor, Chris Fomunyoh, says the change of power will be good.

"That transition is usually a healthy process in every democratic society because then it is a renewal of leadership and it provides an opportunity for those who get the mandate of the people to deliver on campaign promises," Fomunyoh.

Many voters in one of the world's poorest nations said they were voting for change. Fomunyoh says the new president should bear this in mind as soon as he is sworn-in.

"My sense it that the new leaders that will emerge from this election will need to move very quickly to address some of the other issues Sierra Leoneans face that could improve their well-being," he said.

The nation is ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world and basic services such as electricity are nonexistent in most areas.

The runoff follows a first-round last month when seven candidates ran and Koroma received 44-percent of the vote and Berewa had 38-percent, forcing a runoff.

Second-round campaigning saw a series of street clashes, with police and President Kabbah urging the two competing candidates to rein in their supporters.

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