Koroma wins tense Sierra Leone presidential poll

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FREETOWN, Sep 17 (Reuters) Sierra Leone opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma won the West African country's presidential election after a tense run-off vote marred by some cases of fraud, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said today.

Koroma, a 53-year-old former insurance executive and candidate of the opposition All People's Congress (APC), was declared the winner with 54.6 per cent of valid votes from the September. 8 run-off poll.

His rival, Vice-President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), obtained 45.4 per cent.

The election was seen as a test of the former British colony's recovery from a 1991-2002 civil war, one of modern Africa's most brutal in which 50,000 people were killed and children were kidnapped, drugged and forced to fight.

The run-off vote, which followed an inconclusive first-round ballot on August. 11, went ahead generally peacefully, although some clashes between rival supporters marred campaigning.

The polls were the first since United Nations peacekeepers left the war-scarred country two years ago.

''Ernest Bai Koroma has been duly elected president of the Republic of Sierra Leone,'' NEC chairperson Christiana Thorpe told a news conference in Freetown.

Chanting ''Back to Power'', jubilant supporters of Koroma wearing the APC's red colours ran cheering through the streets of the capital, while cars and trucks honked their horns.

The electoral commission declared Koroma the winner despite an announcement by the SLPP at the weekend that it would seek a court injunction to prevent any more results from the presidential run-off being released.

It had said the figures declared so far, which had shown Koroma with a comfortable lead, were not credible.

Thorpe said some instances of attempted electoral fraud, including the stuffing and swapping of ballot boxes, had been discovered which had led to the invalidation of results from some polling stations. But these flaws were not sufficient to affect the final result, the NEC head added.

Voter turnout was around 68 per cent.

International observers had described the polls as generally transparent and peaceful but had also reported some fraud.

Under Sierra Leone law, the official election results can be challenged by petition to the Supreme Court within seven days of their announcement by electoral authorities.

Some disgruntled SLPP supporters said they did not accept Koroma's victory.

''We will never accept the result,'' said a former civil war combatant outside SLPP headquarters, who gave his name as Black Jesus.

REUTERS SKB RK1755

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