Guinea Holds Tense Vote Despite Opposition Mistrust

Guineans lined up to choose their president Sunday after deadly pre-election violence, with the opposition in the poor but mineral-rich west African country vowing to contest the outcome.

Queues formed early outside polling stations for the official 0700 GMT start, with some six million people eligible to vote in the former French colony.

Crowds caused delays at some polling stations, while many voters brought along chairs and bottled water for the occasion.

Mamadou Dionne, a 50-year-old accounting officer, said he had to wait an hour before voting started at a polling station set up in a school in Kaloum, the administrative and business district of the capital Conakry.

He said he hoped the election "takes place calmly without anyone being hurt".

Several people were killed in clashes across the west African country in recent days, leading U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to call for the elections to be "conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner."

Nearly 19,000 police and other security personnel are on duty with all Guinea's borders closed for the day and only electoral observers, officials or those with special permits allowed to drive on the roads.

Opponents of incumbent President Alpha Conde had called for a postponement over what they called the unreliability of the electoral lists and problems with distributing voter cards, which are required to cast a ballot.

Conde's seven rivals also vowed to challenge the results, raising the specter of further unrest in the days to come after deadly clashes between Conde and opposition supporters in the final days of the campaign.

"The seven candidates will not recognize the results which will be made following an election with anomalies and irregularities," they said in a joint statement.

Polls were due to close at 1800 GMT, with results of the first round not expected until at least Tuesday.

Conde dismissed the calls for a postponement, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) also said it was ready to hold the vote as scheduled, declaring Saturday that more than 90 percent of the voter cards had been distributed.

The opposition believes nonetheless that the race is stacked in favour of Conde, who is tipped to win a second term.

Conde is hoping to win at the first round, avoiding a run-off election with his closest rival, but his opponents contend he could not achieve this without rigging the ballot.

Guinea held its first democratic elections in November 2010.

Despite being rich in bauxite, the ore used to produce aluminum, the country is one of the world's poorest and was blindsided by a severe outbreak of Ebola, which began in its southern forests in December 2013 and spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia.

An African Union observer mission and a 72-member European Union delegation are in Guinea to monitor the ballot.

"Generally it isn't the day of the vote that has problems, it's the moment when they announce the results," said Alpha Amadou Bano Barry, sociology professor at Sonfonia University in Conakry.

Conde, whose campaign slogan promises to deliver a "KO blow" to his opponents, is hoping to trade on his five-year record of reforms.

Among his achievements he cites an overhaul of the army and judiciary, the completion of a hydroelectric dam and reforms to make mining contracts more transparent.

"Ask the people of Guinea if what we have done in five years, the others did in 50. Ask that on the streets," he said in an interview.

Half the population lives below the U.N. poverty line, and according to the World Bank per capita annual income in 2014 was just $470 (414 euros) with many lacking access to electricity or running water.

Source: Agence France Presse

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