Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sierra Leone opposition maintains lead

Opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma is still ahead in the race to become Sierra Leone's next president.

With nearly half the vote now counted from Saturday's run-off, Mr Koroma has some 60% and his rival, Vice-President Solomon Berewa, has about 40%.

However, the results come so far from more urban areas where the opposition have their strongest support.

The national electoral commission has appealed for all sides to be patient and stay calm.

The NEC has been widely praised for its "fair and transparent" conduct of the election.

But the BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross says that Sierra Leone's electoral commission also has to double up as a detective agency.

Before reading the latest set of results, NEC head Christiana Thorpe made it clear that attempts at rigging were being found out and would not be tolerated:

"It is with regret that we report that so far across the country, some polling stations result forms report a higher number of votes cast than registered voters."

Queue of voters in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 8 September 2007

International observers, including teams from the European Union and the National Democratic Institute, had asked the NEC to investigate some 14 polling stations where a turnout of 100% - or even more - had been reported.

In all there were more than 6,000 polling stations - with an average turnout of 73%.

And a local monitoring body, National Election Watch (NEW), reported some cases of ballot-stuffing and other incidents - all of which the NEC has to investigate.

This was Sierra Leone's first election since the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers. A particularly brutal civil war ended in 2002.

Foreign election observers praised the absence of violence during voting.

But as our reporter points out - whoever wins, the new president will have the task of uniting a country which to some extent has been divided anew by such a closely-fought election.

BBC NEWS | Africa | S Leone opposition maintains lead