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GUINEA-BISSAU: Yala still refuses to accept defeat in presidential election

bissau, 27 June 2005 (IRIN) - The official results of Guinea-Bissau's presidential election, announced at the weekend, confirmed Malam Bacai Sanha, the candidate of the ruling PAIGC party, as the front-runner, with former military ruler Joao Bernardo "Nino” Vieira in second place.

Malam Mane, the chairman of the National Electoral Commission, told reporters that these two would now proceed to a second round run-off on 17 or 24 July.

However, 24 hours later, third placed Kumba Yala, was still refusing to accept defeat. He insisted on Sunday that he had won more votes than any of the other candidates and had been cheated of victory.

Three people were killed on Friday, the government said, when police fired on Yala's supporters as they attempted to stage an unauthorised demonstration in the capital Bissau. The group of around 500 protesters demanded that Yala, who was elected president in 2000 and overthrown by a coup in 2003, be recognised as the real winner of the poll.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the 19 June election, Yala told reporters after meeting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade in Dakar on Sunday that he had been the real front runner with 38 percent of the vote.

However, Yala declined to say whether he would formally contest the results of the poll, regarded by international observers as free, fair and well organised. He has until 28 June to appeal against the outcome in the Supreme Court.

Asked whom he would support in the second round of the election, the former philosophy teacher said such thoughts were still "inside my pocket."

The final official results of the election, announced on Saturday, were little changed from provisional results unveiled earlier in the week.

Bacai Sanha won 35.45 percent of the vote, followed by Vieira with 28.87 percent and Yala with 25.00 percent.

The remaining votes were divided between 10 minor candidates, none of whom scored more than three percent.

The National Electoral Commission said 87.63 percent of Guinea-Bissau's 538,471 registered voters cast a ballot, an exceptionally high turnout.

Before meeting Yala on Sunday, Wade held separate meetings with Bacai Sanha and Vieira on Saturday, to try to persuade all three of the main candidates to accept the outcome of the elections and maintain peace and stability in the formerly volatile West African country.

During his 2000-2003 stint as president, Yala lost much of his initial popularity as his government became increasingly chaotic. He dissolved parliament and failed to call fresh elections, dismissed half of the Supreme Court, frequently changed his ministers and left civil servants unpaid for months.

However, Yala continues to command strong support among his Balanta ethnic group. This accounts for 30 percent of Guinea-Bissau's 1.3 million population and provides 90 percent of the soldiers in the army.

Police said they arrested 11 people during Friday's pro-Yala demonstration, including Artur Sanha, the secretary general of Yala's Social Renovation Party (PRS), who was found to be in possession of a handgun.

All were subsequently released, except for Sanha, who was still being treated in the military hospital on Monday for minor injuries received during the melee.

Senegal's President Wade has consistently played a major role as a peace broker in Guinea-Bissau, conscious of the fact that separatist guerrillas fighting for the independence of Senegal's southern Casamance region, have often operated from across the border.

In the past, Wade developed a particularly close relationship with Yala, who closed down these cross-border bases soon after he came to power in 2000.

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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