Votes counted in Guinea-Bissau presidential election

Monitors watch votes being counted in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau The count is being monitored by foreign observers

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Votes are being counted in the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau following an election to choose a new president.

Nine candidates are running for office, but analysts say only four have a realistic chance.

The election was triggered by the death in January of President Malam Bacai Sanha.

Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by army mutinies and coups over the past 10 years.

No elected president has completed his mandate since multi-party politics was introduced in 1994.

Several senior military figures are accused of involvement in the international drugs trade and the country has become a trafficking point for cocaine from South America to Europe.

Cycle of instability

The BBC's John James in the capital Bissau says that if the new president is accepted as legitimate by the losing candidates and the powerful army, it would reinforce this fragile country's attempts to escape a cycle of coups and instability.

The front runner is Carlos Gomes Junior, 60, who has stepped down as prime minister to run as candidate for the governing African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

Map

The three other candidates expected to do well are Kumba Yala, who was president from 2000 to 2003; MP Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo and former businessman Henrique Rosa.

Our correspondent say it is likely that a second round will be needed to decide the eventual winner.

Observers said it appeared that people had voted freely and that the election had been well organised.

Air, sea and land borders were closed for the day and only election commission-authorised vehicles were allowed on the roads.

The election in the former Portuguese colony was overseen by about 180 foreign observers.

Security has been in the hands of a mixed force of police, national guard and soldiers, trained by UN security experts.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the US have called for a peaceful, orderly and transparent election.

Malam Bacai Sanha was elected president in 2009 after years of unrest and coups. His predecessor - Joao Bernardo Vieira - was assassinated by mutinous soldiers.

Last December, the US warned its citizens in Guinea-Bissau that there was increased potential for political instability and civil unrest.

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