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Rocky Start To Guinea's Election Campaign - 2003-11-21

Guinea's presidential election campaign has gotten off to a rocky start, with all but two candidates dropping out of the race.

The Supreme Court approved the two candidates for the December 21st presidential election after most of the opposition contenders decided to boycott the poll. Those who remain are the incumbent president, Lansana Conte, and a virtual unknown, Ahmadou Bhoye Barry.

A leading opposition figure, Jean-Marie Dore, was briefly arrested earlier this month, after saying Mr. Barry was planted by the incumbent to create a semblance of democracy in the country.

He also said the 69-year-old President Conte, who has diabetes and has been in power for nearly 20 years, was too ill to run for another seven-year term.

Opposition parties, whose candidates have boycotted the poll, have challenged Mr. Barry to withdraw his candidacy out of conscience.

Guinea's constitution, which previously limited presidents to two consecutive terms in office, was amended in 2001 to enable President Conte to run for a third term.

Opposition parties have denounced the upcoming election for what one of them calls "the unsavory political tactics of the president and his agents." They say the government has rigged previous elections, including the 2001 referendum to change the constitution, and inspires no confidence that this year's poll will be any better.

The European Union has declined to send observers to Guinea, or help in the financing of the election, because of doubts about its fairness.

The dissatisfied opposition has threatened protests and unrest, unless the election is postponed, and all sides are allowed into the election organization process.

President Conte took power in a 1984 coup. Human rights groups say that civil liberties and press freedoms have steadily declined in recent years.