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Sierra Leone Opposition Candidate Edges Ahead

Preliminary results from Sierra Leone's presidential poll give opposition candidate Ernest Koroma a strong lead over the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party candidate and Vice President Solomon Berewa. The largely orderly election, held Saturday, was the first for the nation since U.N. peacekeepers, stationed in the country following its brutal civil war, left in 2005. Kari Barber has more from VOA West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The National Electoral Commission's first provisional results show Ernest Koroma of the opposition All People's Congress with over 107,000 votes, well ahead of the ruling Sierra Leone People' s Party candidate Vice President Solomon Berewa who garnered a little over 33,000 votes.

The provisional results are from five of the 14 districts and represent only about seven percent of all the ballots cast. The strongholds of the ruling SLPP in the south of the country were not included.

The remaining five candidates accounted for less than one percent.

If no presidential candidate wins 55 percent of the vote, the election will go to a runoff in September.

Unofficial results from a network of journalists tallying votes at individual centers showed a closer race between Koroma and Berewa with Koroma leading 45 percent to 35 percent and People's Movement for Democratic Change candidate Charles Margai taking 15 percent.

More results are expected in the coming days with final official results likely to be released by the end of next week. The early results point to a voter turnout of about 70 percent.

Frances Fortune, of National Election Watch, has monitored the polls and the vote counting. She says the release of results is a critical time to make sure the nation remains calm and the post election period continues without violence.

She says the police and the National Electoral Commission, or NEC, have an important role to play in this. "I think the role the police have shown, they have shown very good response mechanism. They were there on election day at most of the polling stations to help control the violence helped control the violence. NEC who has organized to make sure that the rules of the game are very clear. Everybody has a role to play and it is about having a strategy and everybody working on it and that will help to keep the place peaceful and stable," she said.

European Union and African Union observers have said they are generally pleased with the election. However, some in the EU commission have called into question the ruling party's use of incumbency power and media to its advantage during the campaign period.

The new president will President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, has served the maximum two five-year terms and was ineligible to run again.

Parliamentary elections were also held Saturday with more than 550 candidates vying for 112 seats.