Koroma secures early poll lead

By Katrina Manson and Christo Johnson

Freetown - Sierra Leone's opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma took an early lead on Monday as results trickled in from a presidential run-off, but election monitors denounced cases of cheating in the tense weekend poll.

The elections, the first since United Nations peacekeepers left two years ago, are seen as a test for the former British colony's recovery from a 1991-2002 civil war funded by diamond fields in the east where rebels plucked gems from the dirt.

With official results in from just over a fifth of polling stations, Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC) was leading on 64 percent, ahead of Vice-President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) on 36 percent.

National Electoral Commission (NEC) officials noted that early results came mainly from western Sierra Leone, an APC stronghold. They played down allegations of electoral fraud and praised the peaceful conduct of the polls.

"It is vitally important that this atmosphere of calm be retained during this crucial tallying and announcement of results phase," said the head of the commission, Christiana Thorpe at a heavily-guarded news conference.

Full official results were expected to take several days, sowing fears of a return to the violence which marred the campaign, when clashes prevented Koroma from touring the south and east, bastions of SLPP support. Whoever wins the polls will have to address the ethnic rifts revealed by the elections.

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