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01 Jul 2009 16:19
A presidential election in Guinea-Bissau to replace murdered head of state Joao Bernardo Vieira was “free and transparent,” observers from the European Union (EU) announced on Wednesday.
In their report, they said Sunday’s poll in the small west African nation was “well organised, peaceful, free and transparent. No irregularities or major incidents were noted.”
Vieira, who held power for 23 years, was assassinated by members of the army on March 2, apparently in revenge for a bomb attack that claimed the life of the army chief, General Batista Tagme Na Waie.
Despite their clean bill of health, the EU observers said the voter turnout was low and suggested this was due to a climate of “fear and intimidation” in the wake of Vieira’s murder and the subsequent killings of top politicians by the army when it claimed to have foiled a coup plot.
Presidential candidate and former minister Baciro Dabo was among those shot and another candidate pulled out of the race, saying he feared for his life.
Raimundo Pereira, the caretaker president in the former Portuguese colony, declared that the poll would be “an important step towards stability”.
The three leading candidates are all former heads of state.
One of Africa’s poorest countries, with a population of about 1,3-million, Guinea-Bissau has become a transit point in the cocaine trade to Europe from Latin America, according to the United Nations.
Whoever wins the election will be under pressure to stem the drug trafficking as well as tackle widespread poverty.
The EU team of 21 observers stressed that the national electoral commission had carried out its task in a “professional, open, independent and impartial” fashion, despite some shortcomings for structural reasons.
The electoral commission is due to release provisional results of Sunday’s round of voting on Thursday, ahead of a possible second round.
In all, almost 150 international observers monitored the vote.
The EU team also mentioned that press freedom had by and large been respected.—Sapa-AFP
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