Sierra Leone begins general elections to elect new president

Sierra Leone begins general elections to elect new president

Voting to elect a new leader is underway in Sierra Leone.

Riot police have intervened and at least one person has been stabbed in the melee and is being treated for wounds at the hospital.

The SLPP has retained the same candidate, Julius Maada Bio, who lost to Koroma in 2012. "This is a legitimate affair".

Voters in Sierra Leone head to the polls later on Wednesday to choose a new president. The capital also was battered by a deadly mudslide in August that claimed about 1,000 lives.

"I see out there people responding to calls we have made, people behaving in a manner that is democratic and I see our people are transforming the country", Koroma said, casting his vote in Freetown's Goderich district.

"The present government has got a lot of clout".

Sixteen candidates are competing to be elected leader, with Samura Kamara, from the All People's Congress (APC) party, and Julius Maada Bio, from the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), the two front runners. Despite being very popular, he has stepped aside because he has served the two terms permitted by the constitution.

The Ebola crisis starting in 2014 and the global commodities downturn dragged Sierra Leone's economy into the doldrums.

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President Weah urged the people of Sierra Leone to emulate the good example of Liberia, who after almost 14 years of civil war realized peace is the true path to development.

Some say that divisions within the party over Bio's running mate and some of the parliamentary candidates could affect his chances.

The National Grand Coalition (NGC), headed by former United Nations diplomat Kandeh Yumkella, is challenging the two-party system by appealing to young and better-educated urban voters deemed less likely to vote along regional and ethnic lines. Although his party was launched only three months ago, he has been able to mobilize a disgruntled base as a result of current economic hardship and austerity.

The BBC's Umaru Fofana is in Freetown, keeping an eye on developments.

The petition maintains that Yumkella also holds American citizenship.

President Weah then admonished all Sierra Leoneans to put their country first.

More than 3.1 million voters are registered for the polls, which were set to close at 6 pm (1800 GMT).

Political and legal experts have expressed concern that the success of the March 7 elections could depend on mature handling of the court cases, especially those on the presidential candidature. If there is a runoff, it is expected two weeks after the declaration of the results.

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