GUINEA-BISSAU: Two killed as police fire on demonstration by Kumba Yala supporters

BISSAU, 24 June 2005 (IRIN) - Police fired live bullets at several hundred supporters of defeated presidential candidate Kumba Yala on Friday, killing two people and wounding five others, hospital sources said.

An IRIN correspondent at the scene said about 500 demonstrators, led by Artur Sanha, the secretary-general of Yala's Social Renovation Party (PRS), tried to march on the headquarters of Guinea-Bissau's National Electoral Commission, but were intercepted by a group of about 20 policemen.

The demonstrators claimed that Yala, who was placed third in the 19 June presidential election with 25 percent of the vote, was the real winner of the poll.

Shouting "Doctor, Doctor" an affectionate nickname for Yala, they failed to disperse when the police fired tear gas into their midst. They then began to pelt the policemen with stones.

Police reinforcements arrived and the security forces fired several warning shots over the heads of the demonstrators, but they still refused to budge, the IRIN correspondent at the scene said. Police then fired directly at the demonstrators, he added.

Hospital sources said that two people were killed and five were injured.

Police arrested Sanha and two other demonstrators as the crowd finally dispersed.

Police chief Antero Joao Correia said later that the opposition politician was found to be in possession of a hand gun and two magazines of ammunition.

Interior Minister Joaquim Moumine Embalo said he regretted the casualties, the first in a hitherto peaceful electoral process. But he supported the police action, saying they were forced to take tough measures when people refused to obey the law.

According to provisional results, published on Wednesday, Malam Bacai Sanha, the candidate of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), was the front-runner in the presidential election with 35 percent of the vote.

He will now face a second round run-off in July against Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, a former military ruler, who came second with 28 percent.

The National Electoral Commission said earlier this week it expected to publish the official results of the presidential election and a firm date for the run-off poll on Friday or Saturday.

The first round was monitored by 240 international observers, who unanimously praised the election as free, fair, well-organised and peaceful.

The presidential election is due to complete Guinea-Bissau's transition back to constitutional rule, nearly two years after Yala was deposed in a bloodless coup in September 2003.

Yala, a former philosophy teacher, was elected president in 2000 after a brief but bloody civil war.

However, his rule became increasingly erratic. He dissolved parliament and failed to call fresh elections, sacked half the members of the Supreme Court and left civil servants, teachers and health workers unpaid for several months.

There were widespread sighs of relief when Yala was finally overthrown.

But the former president continues to command strong support from his Balanta ethnic group which comprises 30 percent of Guinea-Bissau's 1.3 million population and forms the backbone of the army.

His party, the PRS, emerged as the main opposition force in parliament in legislative elections last year.

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