Rivals clash as Sierra Leone poll runoff looms

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Freetown - Rival supporters clashed in Freetown on Saturday after early results from Sierre Leone's presidential election indicated a runoff would be needed with no candidate set to secure the 55% required to win outright.

With incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma standing down after two terms, his All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara was just leading Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), based on 25% of returns from the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

The NEC gave former foreign minister Kamara a near 45% share of the vote so far against 42% for former general Bio in Wednesday's poll.

European Union observers on Friday described the election as "transparent, credible and well-organised," but noted sporadic "intimidation and violence," concerns echoed by the Freetown-based Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI).

'Shops close in panic' 

The early results triggered unrest as supporters of the two main parties clashed in the capital's central business district, leading police to make several arrests.

"Just after the announcement of the results by NEC people started to celebrate, which angered other onlookers," trader Abubakar Sesay told AFP.

"I was forced to close my business as everyone was running from the scene. Many shops closed due to the panic," Sesay said, adding that he witnessed stone-throwing.

Kandeh Yumkella, a former high-ranked member of the SLPP now standing for a National Grand Coalition (NGC), was in third place with 6.6%  according to the early figures.

The share of his votes in the runoff could prove decisive in determining the eventual winner in the West African country where corruption is rife.

Wednesday's presidential, parliamentary and local council elections had passed off largely peacefully despite a police raid on Bio's residence.

 'Hacking' claim 

The raid followed accusations of vote "hacking" despite Sierra Leone using a manual voting system.

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The NEC had called on Friday for patience in the count, saying it will prioritise accuracy over speed.

A runoff poll must take place two weeks after final results are unveiled.

The APC had said Friday it had a "comfortable lead," causing the SLPP to accuse it of "endangering public order and national security".

The SLPP claimed the APC was preparing to release "fake presidential results" but remained confident of victory.

The two parties have dominated Sierra Leone's politics since independence in 1961, but third parties are hoping to make their mark after mounting charismatic campaigns.

The NGC, whose message of reform has struck a chord with educated urban voters, said Friday it had identified "a number of serious irregularities in the voting process which will in some areas require immediate recounts".

The export-dependent economy of a mineral-rich but impoverished country is in a dire state following the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and a commodity price slump that has driven away foreign investors.

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