July 24, 2005

Bissau hopes for new era after presidential run-off

By Alberto Dabo

BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau voted on Sunday in an
election that has raised hopes of a new era of democratic rule
following a putsch two years ago but which has also sparked
fears of violence in the coup-prone West African country.

Rival presidential candidates made final appeals to voters
on Friday, both promising to lay to rest years of instability
in former the Portuguese colony of 1.4 million people. An
attack on the Interior Ministry last week underscored lingering

"I call on everyone in Guinea-Bissau to turn out in large
numbers at the ballots and show their maturity and civic
sense," said special U.N. envoy Joaquim Chissano said late on

"We are moving decisively toward the end of the political
transition," said Chissano, a former president of Mozambique.

Both candidates competing in Sunday's vote promised to work
for national unity and to fight poverty in the densely forested
country, where average income is about $140 a year.

Voting began at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT).

Malam Bacai Sanha, of the main PAIGC party, is competing
against former military ruler Joao Bernardo Vieira, who seized
power in 1980. The polls went to a second round after a first
vote in June in which no candidate won an outright majority.

Vieira seized power in a coup in 1980, won elections in
1994 but was ousted in a putsch in 1999 after a civil war.
Sanha, whose party fought colonial rule, took over as a
transitional president after the coup against Vieira.

Some residents left the capital last weekend when gunmen
attacked the Interior Ministry and presidential palace, killing
at least two policemen. The motive for the attack was unclear.

The government blamed the raid on a member of parliament
who supports former President Kumba Yala, who was knocked out
in the first round of voting. The deputy denied the

Clashes between security forces and Yala supporters erupted
in the capital Bissau after results from the first round of
polls, on June 19, placed him third. Four people were killed.
Yala was elected in 2000, then ousted in a 2003 putsch.

Yala, who declared himself president in May and was accused
of attempting a coup shortly afterwards, eventually accepted
the election results. He denies involvement in the coup

Analysts say the loyalties of the divided army are likely
to be crucial in the post-election period in a nation rocked by
coups and uprisings since independence in 1974.