Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sierra Leone gears up for joint peace rally ahead of vote

FREETOWN (AFP) — Sierra Leone is gearing up for a much billed joint peace rally between the country's two rivals in the upcoming presidential run-off following days of pre-poll violent skirmishes, police said Wednesday.

Ernest Koroma, of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) who came top in the inconclusive first round of voting and his closest rival Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) will together on Thursday embark on a peace march, driving across the capital city in one vehicle.

At the weekend, the two signed a pact pledging violence-free elections after days of inter-party clashes in parts of the country and the capital left dozens of people wounded.

They agreed that their pre-poll campaign will culminate in the joint rally to denounce violence and calm their supporters in this politically highly charged country trying to recover from a brutal civil war that ended six years ago.

Police assistant inspector general Richard Moigbeh, told AFP that all is in place for the rally and that security will be tight.

"We are happy that it is a peace rally, but at the same time we should not under-estimate security and the two people involved who may have their high security risks."

"So the security we are going to provide should not intimidate anybody," he said, pledging impartiality and neutrality.

"This time around we will be more robust and more proactive and very very firm in enforcing all the laws," he said, warning that anyone who resorted to violence in expressing their views will meet with the "stiffest resistance of the police".

The two leaders are scheduled to ride in one vehicle crossing from the western to the eastern end of Freetown making whistlestop addresses.

Police had feared an outbreak of electoral violence in this country where ethnic divisions have fuelled conflict.

Saturday's deciding election is the last phase of voting closely watched by by international observers as a test of whether Sierra Leone has fully recovered from the 1991-2002 civil war that killed some 120,000 people.

Moigbeh hailed the planned rally "as a welcome event for the two political flagbearers to show solidarity and unity against violence."

A former spokesman of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that waged the war fuelled by blood diamonds, Eldret Collins said, the Thursday rally will "definitely send a message of unity and do away with suspicions".

President Kabbah’s Non-Violence Strategy: A Welcome Move  Read more.

AFP: Sierra Leone gears up for joint peace rally ahead of vote