October 20, 2010 / 5:28 AM / in 8 years

Guinea bids to salvage Oct 24 poll date

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea’s two rival presidential candidates said they were ready to take part in a delayed vote run-off this Sunday after the head of the West African country’s electoral body was replaced over complaints of bias.

Cellou Dallein Diallo, leader of UFDG (Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea) opposition party, lies in a private hospital of Conakry September 30, 2009. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

The appointment late on Tuesday of Malian official Siaka Toumany Sangare to head the election commission was hailed by France, which urged its former colony to complete its first free elections since independence in 1958.

“This is a milestone,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

“The two candidates, with whom I have been in contact the last few days, have accepted the decision and are actively preparing for next Sunday’s vote.”

But it was uncertain whether the end to the row over leadership of the electoral body would be enough to salvage the October 24 vote date after the dispute put preparations behind schedule and raised the chance of further delays.

Officials at the electoral commission, CENI, were not immediately available to comment.

“What I can tell you is that I am ready,” presidential hopeful Cellou Dallein Diallo told BBC Afrique radio.

Diallo, a former prime minister in the bauxite-producing country, had accused the former head of the CENI of bias against him and had threatened to boycott the poll.

Separately, Diallo spokesman Souleymane Tianguel Bah said his camp hoped the October 24 date was tenable and added that they were satisfied with Sangare’s appointment to head the CENI.

“NO FURTHER OBSTACLE”

“I think there is no further obstacle to keeping the date of October 24,” Moustapha Naite, spokesman for rival candidate Alpha Conde, said. “From our point of view, we are ready.”

The election in the junta-ruled minerals exporter is seen as its best chance to shake off decades of authoritarian rule, and would end a crisis that has lingered since a 2008 coup.

The first round on June 27 passed off without violence but was marred by accusations of fraud which triggered street violence and a deepening row over control of the election body, delaying the decisive second round for weeks.

Diallo, who hails from the large ethnic Peul group, scored 43.69 percent in the first round, ahead of the second-placed Conde, from the Malinke group, with 18.25 percent.

Gunfire was heard in the capital Conakry on Monday and youths, frustrated by the vote delays, clashed with security forces. A Reuters eyewitness reported that the streets of the capital had returned to calm on Wednesday morning.

Presidency Secretary-General Tibou Kamara, the political righthand man of junta leader Sekouba Konate, insisted late on Tuesday it was still technically possible for the election to go ahead as planned on October 24.

A subsequent statement read on state television named General Siaka Toumany Sangare, a Malian who had been working for Guinea within the Francophonie organisation of French-speaking states, as the new head of the election.

Yet Sangare, who holds the title of army general, has only four days to ensure preparations are in place and analysts fear any further irregularities this time will mean the losing candidate will reject the outcome of the vote.

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