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Clash Breaks Out Before Guinea Elections

A man puts up electoral posters on a wall in a street of Conakry ahead of Guinea's first free election since independence in 1958., 24 Jun 2010

Fighting broke out between supporters of two Guinean political parties Thursday, three days before a landmark presidential election.

Witnesses say backers of the Union of Republican Forces and the Union of Democratic Forces threw stones at each other in Coyah, a village east of the capital, Conakry.

Several people were injured in the clash. This is the first reported instance of political violence in Guinea since campaigning began in the middle of May.

Sunday's poll is meant to restore civilian rule in Guinea after 18 months of a military-led government. Officials hope it will be the country's first free and fair election since independence from France in 1958.

On Wednesday, the head of Guinea's army said soldiers are free to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Army Chief of Staff Colonel Nouhou Thiam said Guinea is now a democracy, and that soldiers will face no intimidation from colleagues and superior officers.

Twenty-four candidates are seeking the presidency, but only a few are expected to be strong contenders. These include opposition leader Alpha Conde and former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure.

The West African country has been run by two presidents who ruled with an iron fist and suppressed human rights. A military junta seized power in 2008, after the death of President Lansana Conte. Original junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara went into exile after being shot and wounded by an aide late last year.

His successor, Sekouba Konate, set up the current transitional government. General Konate and other interim leaders are not eligible to run in the election.

A candidate needs to win a majority of the vote Sunday to be declared president. Guinea's electoral commission has proposed July 18 as the date for a run-off vote if one is needed.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.