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News Politics Sierra Leone braces for results as opposition claims poll fraud

Sierra Leone braces for results as opposition claims poll fraud

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Sierra Leone braces for results as opposition claims poll fraud
Sierra Leone braces for results as opposition claims poll fraud
FREETOWN: Sierra Leone's election received kudos from observers on Monday for being peaceful and well-organised, but concerns spiked over potential violence around results as the opposition alleged poll fraud.

The National Electoral Commission is still tallying the results of Saturday's presidential, parliamentary and local elections, seen as a litmus test of the west African nation's recovery from a brutal civil war which ended in 2002.

However unofficial results are trickling through on local radio stations and observers have urged a speedy release of the outcome due before Saturday to prevent rumours and speculation prompting violence.

"A lot of people have said they are very concerned about reactions as results become known and that could be a flashpoint in terms of potential conflict between rival groups of supporters," chief observer of the 100-strong European Union observer mission Richard Howitt told AFP.

"I am concerned an undue delay in results being announced could risk conflict in a society where rumour plays a big role."

On Monday the observer mission released its preliminary report praising a "peaceful and well-conducted election."

"We hope the parties will ensure that all their supporters keep to the commitment of non-violence as the results become known. The winners as well as the losers."

Main opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio the main rival to incumbent Ernest Koroma said his party has evidence of poll fraud.

"There (is) evidence of rampant ballot stuffing in several polling centres, especially in the northern region, Kono and Freetown with full complicity of NEC (National Electoral Commission) staff," Bio said in a press statement.

"Evidently, most of the results announced do not reflect actual votes cast. There are videos of NEC staff ensuring that voters cast their ballots for (President) Ernest Koroma."

The 48-year old retired brigadier, who served a brief stint as military ruler in 1996, urged his supporters to remain calm, vowing that "no one steals the mandate of our voters or alter the results to our disadvantage. As things stand now we are very confident of winning the elections."

The Carter Centre observer mission also praised the elections for a "high degree of transparency."

A Commonwealth observer mission said the polls were "peaceful and orderly."

All observer missions have criticised an unequal playing field and the use of state resources for campaigning, inadequate voter education and a lack of gender equality on electoral lists.

Miatra French of the electoral commission said difficult terrain in rural parts of the country was posing a challenge to tallying efforts but that most results had arrived at regional headquarters.

"As soon as we finish the process we will release the results," she said.

The ruling All People's Congress (APC) campaign co-ordinator Leonard Koroma assured that "if the result is in our favour there would be no abuse or violence. In case we lose, we will also accept the result."

Previous elections in 2002 and 2007 were marred by pockets of violence.

The 2007 election however saw a peaceful transfer of power between the opposition and ruling party when Koroma won in a second round.

Now, a decade after the end of a war synonymous with feared rebel leaders armed through the sale of "blood diamonds", Sierra Leone has become accustomed to peace.

The concerns of most voters are development, prosperity, improved access to education and health care, and greater employment opportunities.

The incoming government will be tasked with stewardship of a lucrative windfall from a boom in the country's mining industry, notably iron-ore, and possible oil production.

Though still one of the world's poorest countries, Sierra Leone is rich in mineral resources and massive iron-ore stores are expected to add 21 percent growth this year to its $2.2 billion (1.7 billion euro) gross domestic product, the International Monetary Fund estimates.

If well-managed, these resources could change the fortunes of a nation which has one of Africa's lowest life expectancies at 47 years, according to the World Bank, and highest rates of maternal mortality. Youth unemployment levels hover at 60 percent.

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