Monday, September 03, 2007

Sierra Leone presidential contenders agree to avert violence ahead of poll

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP): The two contenders vying for Sierra Leone's presidency in elections this week agreed to ensure a peaceful poll after talks with the president and deep concern over sporadic clashes between stone-throwing party supporters. 

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah held talks with the two men facing each other in Saturday's run-off, opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma and ruling party candidate and Vice President Solomon Berewa. 

All three agreed "to demonstrate their commitment to the peaceful conduct of the runoff presidential election.'' Koroma and Berewa agreed to let police, instead of private bodyguards, take responsibility for security. 

Party rivals armed with machetes, sticks and stones brawled in the capital, Freetown, on Saturday, leaving an unknown number injured.  

Police broke up the clashes in the central business district with tear gas. 

Skirmishes have erupted elsewhere in the country, and Kabbah last week threatened to impose a state of emergency if violence got out of hand. 

Koroma won 44 percent of the Aug. 11 presidential vote, compared with 38 percent for Berewa. Both fell short of the 55 percent needed to avert a runoff. 

The presidential vote was Sierra Leone's first since U.N. peacekeepers withdrew two years ago and has been seen as a chance for the diamond-rich nation to prove it has established civilian rule after a 10-year civil war that ended in 2002. 

Seven candidates had vied to succeed Kabbah, who is prevented by term limits from running for a third five-year term. 

Sierra Leone presidential contenders agree to avert violence ahead of poll