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Tensions Escalate in Wake of Guinea-Bissau Elections

Tensions are high in Guinea-Bissau just days after the presidential elections provisional results gave Joao Bernardo Vieira the majority of the votes. His opponent, ruling-party candidate Malam Bacai Sanha, said he will not accept defeat. As the election commission meets to make the final count, security is being tightened around government buildings in the capital, Bissau, and residents are starting to leave the city.

The people of Guinea-Bissau voted in presidential elections just nine days ago with the hopes of ending two years of a transitional government in a country notorious for coups and uprisings since independence from Portugal in 1974.

But that hope seems to have been dampened as both presidential hopefuls traded barbs in the wake of election day on July 24.

Malam Bacai Sanha
This week, defeated candidate Malam Bacai Sanha warned that he would not be able to control his supporters if the provisional results giving victory to Jaoa Bernardo Vieira were finalized by the election commission. The commission is counting votes and will post results next week.

Mr. Vieira, the former military ruler who took 55 percent of the vote in the presidential run-off, says he is confident the electoral commission will confirm him as the winner.

People are already fleeing the capital Bissau in anticipation of violence when the commission makes its final ruling.

Alain Mbarrow, a journalist covering the election in Bissau, has witnessed the exodus.

"Up to today, many people have fled away from Bissau and are finding secure places inside the country," he said. "Some have already gone to Senegal or the neighboring country of Guinea Conakry."

Mr. Sahna has filed a 135-page document asking the election commission to annul the results in three regions because of alleged fraud.

Despite a recount, West Africa analyst Chris Melville, from the London-based World Markets Research Center, says the outcome of a Vieira victory is likely.

"We might see recounts in some areas, or perhaps a rerun in the polls in places where there seems to be some significant irregularities, but nothing overwhelming that would likely reverse Vieiras victory," he said.

But, Mr. Melville warns that a Vieira victory may bring new problems to the tiny coup-ridden nation. He says if Mr. Vieira takes office, he still will have to deal with the ruling-party majority.

Already, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, a member of the PAIGC ruling party, has said he would not step down and would have to rule alongside Mr. Vieira.

"Although he has significant support within the ruling party, its by no means unanimous," he said. "And, if the ruling party is planning on rejecting the election results, and Prime Minister Gomes follows through on his promise to stand down if Vieira wins, we could see a schism in the party, rather than Vieira assuming control of it."

A former military head of state, Joao Vieira, also known as Nino, ruled Guinea Bissau for 18 years, until a military uprising in 1999. Mr. Vieira is accused of killing five senior military officers who were possibly planning a coup against him.

Though he claims he has been exonerated of these charges, Mr. Vieira's politically charged past could bring new unrest to Guinea Bissau.

"It is possible that we are just seeing a moment of calm before Guinea Bissau's return to political instability," said West Africa analyst Chris Melville.

African Union chair and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is expected to visit Bissau this week to help cool down post-electoral tension in the country.