Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sierra Leone leader warns of possible state of emergency

Source: CNN.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (Reuters) -- Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has warned he could declare a state of emergency across the former British colony if violence ahead of next month's presidential run-off vote worsens.

Police declared a curfew in the eastern border region with Liberia on Monday, a center of the illegal diamond mining trade which fueled a 1991-2002 civil war, after dispersing more than a thousand demonstrators from rival political groups.

The unrest spread to the suburbs of the capital Freetown late on Monday, where supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party and the opposition All People's Congress took to the streets with machetes, local radio said.

U.N. sources said one person was believed to have been killed in the violence.

"The people of this country have suffered long enough," Kabbah said in an address broadcast late on Monday.

"I'm deeply distressed by events at the weekend. ... From henceforth the government shall not hesitate to declare a state of emergency," he said.

The polls in the West African country are the first since United Nations peacekeepers left two years ago following the civil war, a brutal conflict in which children were drugged and forced to fight and civilians were mutilated with machetes.

The British army has retrained Sierra Leone's armed forces and the security situation is much improved, but corruption among politicians -- one of the root causes of the war -- is rampant and the country remains mired in poverty.

Main opposition candidate Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC won 44 percent of the vote in the August 11 first round, followed by Vice President Soloman Berewa of the SLPP on 38 percent.

Koroma is being backed in the run-off by the third-placed candidate Charles Margai, who polled 14 percent.

Deep fault lines in the country have resurfaced during the polls, with the APC winning strong support among the northern ethnic Temne and Limba groups but the SLPP backed by the southern Mende population.

With about 100,000 votes separating Koroma and Berewa in the first round, the run-off will depend largely on whether Margai, who took over 250,000 votes, can convince his southern Mende heartland to switch to the northern-based APC.

Analysts say that means ethnic politics are likely to play a role in campaigning but note that the unrest so far has been relatively minor and localized.

Sierra Leone's Independent Media Commission has already issued warnings to two radio stations -- one owned by the SLPP, the other by the APC -- for broadcasting programs liable to stir unrest.

"Several people within the community are perturbed by the incitative statements from the two radio stations," Commissioner Bernadette Cole told Reuters. "If left unchecked their activities may lead to chaos, mayhem and public disorder."

"Members of the Security Council called on leaders of all parties and their followers ... to respect the results of the elections as they are confirmed and to resolve any disputes through exclusively peaceful and legal channels," the U.N. Security Council said in a statement.

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