A man listens to the radio as he waits in line to vote at a polling station in the Susan's Bay area of Freetown, Sierra Leone. File photo: Tommy Trenchard

Freetown - Sierra Leone on Tuesday anxiously awaited poll results in a high-stakes general election, with tensions erupting in a key eastern city as ruling party supporters celebrated positive early returns.

The National Electoral Commission said in a statement it was processing results from Saturday's polls and the “official declaration of elections results will commence within the next few days”.

Observers have warned that delays in the announcement, as local radios broadcast their own tallies, could spark violence as rumours and speculation start to circulate.

The election process has been praised for its peacefulness and transparency.

A joint statement by the United States and United Kingdom embassies added their congratulations to the West African nation on its first self-organised election since the end of a brutal 11-year war in 2002.

“We welcome the largely peaceful conduct of the large numbers of Sierra Leoneans who turned out to vote in Saturday’s presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections,” read the statement.

“As we await the official results, we call on all parties to continue to abide by the rule of law, renounce violence and incitement to violence and respect human rights.”

On Monday evening, a small skirmish erupted in the eastern city of Kailahun as police fired teargas to disperse groups of rival party supporters.

A local reporter told AFP tensions rose when supporters of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) took to the streets celebrating unofficial election results after the presidential, parliamentary and local polls.

He said security forces stepped in as the group was headed towards a gathering of opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) supporters and fired teargas to disperse the crowd.

“One youth attempted to disarm a soldier but did not succeed,” the local reporter said.

After the incident, police arrested a number of youths, and an angry group gathered outside the police station to demand their release, throwing stones.

Police Inspector General Francis Munu told AFP a curfew had been imposed overnight from 10pm until 6am on Tuesday morning.

“The situation is now calm. We imposed a curfew as a temporary measure to bring the situation under control. We don't know whether it will continue today, if the situation continues to stabilise there will be no need,” he said.

The general election is seen as a test of Sierra Leone's recovery from the war and will hand the new government stewardship of a lucrative mining boom.

“The success of this election will provide a sound foundation for greater stability and economic progress, which are important to all Sierra Leoneans,” the embassies' statement said.

Incumbent Ernest Koroma is seeking a second term in what is billed as a tight race with main rival Julius Maada Bio of the SLPP. A candidate must obtain 55 percent of votes to avoid a run-off election. - AFP