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Sierra Leone Police Urge Calm Before Presidential Runoff


Sierra Leone's police are urging leaders of the two political parties in the presidential runoff to take control of their supporters to avoid the kind of unrest that broke out earlier in the week. Sunday and Monday street fights left several people injured and forced police to step up security ahead of the second round of voting scheduled for September 8. Kari Barber has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Police are encouraging officials from the Sierra Leone People's Party, the party of candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa, and those from the opposition leader Ernest Koroma's All People's Congress to hold talks to prevent renewed clashes.

A dawn-to-dusk curfew, imposed by police after outbreaks of violence in the east, has now been lifted following a period of calm.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah announced earlier in the week that he would declare a state of emergency if the pre-election violence did not stop.

The first round of voting saw little violence and was deemed free and fair by international observers. No candidate won 55 percent of the vote, making a runoff necessary.

Sierra Leone Police spokesman Chris Charley says the authorities have done their part, now it is up to the political leaders to cool simmering tension among their supporters.

"They owe us an obligation to control themselves and realize that no one is above the law and no one should take the law into their own hands," he said.

Charley says the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) were forced to use tear gas earlier in the week to control the crowds, but hope they will not have to draw their weapons.

"With their cooperation, the organization that is the SLP will provide a very peaceful environment for them to have a credible free and fair election," he added.

This week U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called on the political parties to do everything necessary to maintain the peace and order that prevailed during most of the first round.

The presidential and parliamentary elections held August 11 were the first since U.N. peacekeepers pulled out in 2005, leaving the national police in charge of security for the elections.

The APC's Koroma led Vice President Berewa in the first round 44 percent to 38 percent and has received the backing of third-place candidate Charles Margai who took 14 percent. The opposition APC also won a majority of seats in parliament, previously controlled by the SLPP.

Mr. Kabbah, who served as president through the end of the country's brutal civil war, has vowed to hand over power to whoever wins.