By Rod MacJohnson
Freetown - Sierra Leone's opposition leader Ernest Koroma maintained his lead over his rival in presidential elections, outgoing Vice President Solomon Berewa, with ballots from half of the country's polling station counted.
Preliminary results issued by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on Wednesday showed Koroma ahead with 58.5 percent of the votes.
He was leading in seven out of the 14 districts, while Berewa strengthened his lead in the remaining seven, all located in the southern and eastern parts of the country where his People's Sierra Leone party (SLPP) has traditionally drawn its support.
Voters had turned out last Saturday for the run-off round of what were only the second presidential polls since the end of a brutal civil war in this impoverished country.
Expactations that the election could turn the page on years of civil conflict and decades of corruption that have ruined the potentially prosperous nation buoyed polling.
Outgoing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who led the country during and after the country's civil war, and who is credited with negotiating an end to the war, is stepping down after having achieved the maximum two-term limit.
Kabbah on Wednesday appealed to the tension-charged citizens to accept the outcome of the weekend presidential run-off. He warned the country could not afford post-election anarchy.
In a nationwide radio and television address, Kabbah urged "everybody to accept the outcome of the elections irrespective of whether they go in his or her favour".
"There will be no winners and we will all be losers if the country is plunged into chaos just after the final results are announced," he warned.
Saturday's run-off, which unfolded mostly under the shadows of tension and pre-poll electoral violence in the diamond-rich west African country, looks to consolidate a peace process six years after a brutal war.
The elections were the first since 17 500 UN peacekeepers pulled out in 2005 after overseeing a peace process after a war regarded as the most barbaric in recent history.
The conflict gave Sierra Leone international notoriety for its savagery, in which thousands had their limbs hacked off and 120 000 people were killed.
Many Sierra Leoneans said they voted for a new order in what the United Nations rates as the world's second-poorest nation.
Average turnout rate, according to figures so far, stood at 72.4 percent.
The first round on August 11 was characterised by a big turnout of 75.8 percent of the 2.6 million registered voters despite heavy rains. They were called to chose presidential candidates and 112 lawmakers for a single chamber legislature.
Foreign observer groups, while praising the run-off as largely calm and orderly, pointed to irregularities in the southern ruling party stronghold where the opposition is crying foul.
Head of NEC Christiana Thorpe said the commission was looking into the complaints. - Sapa-AFP