Africa

Guinea presidential rivals back new electoral chief

Guinean police patrol the streets of Conakry during a rally. Photo: 19 October 2010
Image caption Guinean police have stepped up security ahead of the poll

Guinea's two rival presidential candidates have said they are prepared to go ahead with Sunday's run-off after the replacement of the election chief.

The move by the military rulers was aimed at quelling violence and threats to boycott the much-delayed vote.

Cellou Dalein Diallo, who had accused the former election commission head of bias, told the BBC he was now "ready".

Alpha Conde's campaign manager said his camp was happy with Tuesday's late night appointment.

"I think this is a solution we can accept," Makale Traore told BBC Afrique.

There has been concern that replacing the election head in the week before the run-off could put the whole process in doubt again.

The election is intended to end the political crisis that began when soldiers seized power in December 2008.

Outsider

Earlier this week, two supporters of Mr Diallo were killed as police opened fire on crowds demanding the removal of Lounceny Camara as the election commission head.

His replacement is Siaka Toumany Sangare, an army general and Malian national working in Guinea with the Organisation International de la Francophonie.

A junta spokesman said the decision to install Gen Sangare had been taken after "advice and consultation" with the international community.

Elizabeth Cote of Guinea's International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which has been engaged in training for the polls, welcomed his appointment.

"He's an electoral expert... he knows the hurdles and knows exactly where things stand logistically," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

The second round has been delayed twice, once in July because of investigations into electoral fraud and again in September because of clashes between rival supporters.

The electoral commission was then plunged into chaos when its initial head died not long after being convicted of defrauding Mr Conde in the first round.

A power struggle ensued and the new electoral chief was then taken to court by Mr Diallo over separate allegations of rigging in June.

Ethnicity

Mr Diallo, whose supporters have been fighting running battles with police on the streets of the capital Conakry for the past two days, had been threatening to boycott Sunday's vote.

"What I can tell you is that I am ready," he said in a BBC interview after Gen Sangare's appointment.

The former prime minister is seen as the favourite to win the run-off. He took 44% of the votes in the first round - and claims he was denied overall victory only by fraud.

Mr Conde, a veteran opposition leader, won 18% of the vote - although he claims he was cheated out of some 600,000 ballots.

Correspondents say the fierce tensions between the two candidates' supporters has its origins in rivalry between Guinea's two largest ethnic communities. Mr Diallo is a Peul, while Mr Conde is a Malinke.

Despite being the largest ethnic group, a Peul has never been president. The Malinke are heavily represented in the ruling military junta.

The first round was seen as Guinea's first democratic vote since independence in 1958, raising hopes of an end to military and authoritarian rule in the mineral-rich country.

Guinea is the world's largest exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite. It also has important deposits of iron ore, but it remains one of the poorest countries in West Africa.

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