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Presidential Campaign Ends in Guinea - 2003-12-19


Campaigning has ended in Guinea, where ailing President Lansana Conte, in power since a coup in 1984, faces a little known candidate in Sunday's presidential election. Main opposition leaders are boycotting the vote.

The ruling party held its final campaign rally in a half-empty stadium in the capital Conakry on Thursday.

Its candidate, President Conte, was not present. Barely able to walk and suffering from diabetes, he has left most of the campaigning to other officials in his party.

On Sunday, the 69-year-old leader faces Mamadou Bhoye Barry, the leader of a very small party, accused by other opposition members of being on Mr. Conte's payroll.

All other opposition leaders are boycotting the vote, saying they do not believe the election will be free and fair.

One of the main opposition politicians, Sidya Toure, says he hopes voters will abstain.

Mr. Toure says a general boycott would show that 99 percent of Guineans support the opposition.

President Conte won elections in 1993 and 1998, described by both the opposition and international monitors as badly flawed. Two years ago, constitutional changes allowed Mr. Conte to seek a third elected term, lifted the age limit for the presidency and extended the presidential term from five years to seven.

One of the ruling party officials who has campaigned in place of Mr. Conte, Alpha Ousmane Diallo, says voters will prove the opposition wrong.

Mr. Diallo says he hopes voter turnout will be up to 90 percent and that Mr. Conte will get more than 50 percent of the vote in a clean election.

Observers say the government has been afraid of a possible coup, arresting dozens of soldiers and policemen since November, before releasing them this week to ease tensions.

The elections are also taking place amid increasing poverty. Guinea's government has been deprived of foreign aid for two years because of what donor countries consider to be bad governance and too much corruption, while residents in the capital face increasing water and electricity shortages.

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