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Sierra Leone President Threatens State of Emergency

Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has said he will declare a state of emergency if clashes continue between supporters of the two main political parties in next month's presidential runoff. Police have stepped up patrols in the capital and a curfew has been imposed in the east of the country after two days of fighting in the streets. Kari Barber has more from VOA' s West Africa bureau in Dakar.

After a mostly peaceful first round, many are worried that recent skirmishes between supporters of Sierra Leone People's Party candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa and those of the opposition All People's Congress' Ernest Koroma could threaten to destabilize the runoff election set for September 8th.

Police fired tear gas to break up fights and rock throwing between the rival parties Sunday in Freetown. In the eastern Kano district a dawn-to-dusk curfew was declared, after several people were injured in clashes there.

Sierra Leone police spokesman Chris Charley says the heightened tension could have been avoided if political leaders had better explained to their followers that a runoff was possible and how it would work.

"So expectations have been raised. They did not properly prepare the minds of their supporters that in an event when 55 percent of the vote was not attained, there was going to be a runoff," said Charley.

Koroma led Berewa in the first round of voting, 44 percent to 38 percent, and has since received the backing of third-place candidate Charles Margai, a major boost for his campaign.

Police spokesman Charley says the police, in charge of election security following the withdrawal of U.N. troops in 2005, are being called on to use greater force to maintain calm.

"We are in a politically democratic environment and as such we start off with the softest approach," added Charley. "But if we feel that people want to take the law in their own hands, we definitely will come down heavily on them."

Johannesburg-based International Security Studies researcher, Issaka Souare, says President Kabbah's announcement that a state of emergency could be called is worrisome.

"He has threatened to bring in emergency legislation. That might not be the best solution because the campaigning is going on and if you have emergency legislation people are not going to be able to go out and campaign," said Souare.

Mr. Kabbah said in an address Monday that Sierra Leone had endured too much violence in its civil war ending in 2002 to allow chaos and unrest to take hold again.

In legislative elections, also held August 11, the All People's Congress won a majority of seats in parliament, taking control from the Sierra Leone People's Party. The elections were declared free and fair by observers.