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Tejan Kabbah Leads Sierra Leone Elections - 2002-05-15

Early returns from Tuesday's presidential election in Sierra Leone are showing incumbent President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah with a strong lead over his eight challengers.

The results trickled in from precincts in Freetown and around Sierra Leone, and were broadcast continuously over private radio stations.

Ballots were counted at individual polling stations, with the results then sent to a central location in Freetown, where they are being tabulated.

The poll was the first to be held since Sierra Leone declared its 10 year civil war over. Among the parties taking part in Tuesday's poll was the Revolutionary United Front Party, RUFP, which is made up of former rebels.

Early results in both the presidential and legislative races showed Mr. Kabbah's Sierra Leone People's Party with a substantial lead over the other eight parties, including the RUFP. Early tallies showed the former rebel group drawing relatively low support even in rebel strongholds like the northern city of Makeni.

United Nations and other officials said the poll appeared to have been conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner. There were, however, reports of irregularities that included illegal voting by children in some polling stations in the interior of the country.

In Freetown, minor scuffles erupted Wednesday outside the headquarters of the National Election Commission, known as "NEC," when youths showed up with ballot boxes they said had been hidden away. One of the poll workers involved, Patrick Sesay, explained the incident to a reporter, saying the boxes contained ballots that were already counted and had been put away while paperwork was completed.

"We could not complete everything," he said. "So we decided this morning we would complete and seal everything before we brought the full box to the NEC office. So this morning, we allocated an area where we went to complete this thing. So when we brought this thing, youths from around the area came and asked what is this box? We told them exactly what we were going to do exactly, that everything had been counted. But still, they persisted and said they wanted to know."

Police in riot gear dispersed the crowd.

The elections, which had been twice postponed due to the civil war, drew a very high turnout of voters. Among those turning out in large numbers were amputees - victims of what were perhaps the war's worst atrocities. Special arrangements were made so that those who are missing their hands could vote using their toes.

The independent National Electoral Commission has promised final results will be announced by Friday.