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Guinea: historic presidential run-off 0

Residents in Guinea have voted in a presidential runoff election described as the country’s first free polls since independence from France in 1958. No major disruptions were reported as voters went to the polls on Sunday, though worries remained over the potential for ethnically driven violence once the results are released.

As the monsoons of the West African republic’s notorious rainy season come to a close, Guineans waited in the hot sun for hours to choose between longtime opposition leader Alpha Conde and former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo. One of the two candidates, who qualified after a first round held in June, will replace a military junta that has ruled since December 2008.

Cellou Dalein Diallo, who took 43 percent of the vote in the first round, is the favourite to become the mineral-rich country’s first democratically elected leader since independence.

His opponent, veteran opposition figure Alpha Conde, is hoping to improve vastly on his first round tally of 18 percent.

Under pressure from the international community the two candidates – who come from two ethnic majorities, the Fulani and Mandinke – made a joint call for calm on Friday after violent clashes between their supporters.

The vote is seen as a key moment in the political trajectory of both Guinea and West Africa as a whole. Successful elections would mark an end to decades of military and strongman rule, providing the key to stability and economic development. However, the army could wind up holding on to power in Guinea if the election is contested and civil strife results.

Since the June 27 election, widely hailed as peaceful, hostility has mounted between the two camps who have accused each other of planning to rig the vote.

A rumour that Diallo’s camp had poisoned water distributed at an election rally on October 22 which left scores of Conde’s supporters in hospital, led to a series of attacks on the Fulani and left at least one dead.

According to humanitarian organisations, as many as 2,000 people have fled their homes.

On the eve of the vote, interim president General Sekouba Konate called on Guineans to “break with a violent past” and reaffirmed that the military would leave power at the end of the electoral process.

“The final challenge of the transition is to elect our president in peace, security, confidence in our common future in the union of all the sons of Guinea.”

“We in the military… are determined to support and entrench democracy in Guinea. There is no hope to retain power, and even less regret at having to leave.”

Guinea’s “father of independence” Ahmed Sekou Toure went from being the creator of Africa’s first Marxist state to a paranoid dictator, who died in office in 1984 after 26 years in power.

A coup upon Toure’s death lead to 24 years of military rule by Lansana Conte.

Conte’s death in December 2008 lead to another coup, thrusting the country into crisis as disillusion quickly set in with a junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

In September 2009 security forces opened fire on a crowd protesting Camara’s rule, leading to the bloody massacre of 157 people and horrific scenes of sexual violence which left the west African nation traumatised.

Konate has led an interim government since January.

The nation has enormous mineral wealth and multinationals are scrambling for their stake in massive bauxite and iron-ore stores.

However half the population lives under the poverty line, and the majority of homes have neither running water nor electricity.

By Staff – Sources: Afp, Cnn, Bbc, Al Jazeera

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