CONAKRY Guinean authorities postponed on Wednesday a presidential election run-off due in four days, casting doubt on the minerals-producing West African state's bid to return to civilian rule.
Street battles left one dead and 50 injured this week as rival political camps traded accusations of attempted vote-rigging, while turmoil within the election body itself had made a delay to Sunday's poll look increasingly inevitable.
Election officials emerging from hours of talks in the capital Conakry blamed the postponement on a lack of necessary voting equipment and said it could take up to two weeks for arrangements to be in place.
"This is a hope that has been unfulfilled, an important opportunity that has gone by the wayside," junta leader Sekouba Konate, who has won international plaudits for his decision to relinquish power, told national television.
Foumba Kourouma, a member of the election commission CENI, said authorities would continue talks on Thursday to determine when the election run-off could be held.
Analysts have said a successful election in Guinea, seen as a linchpin of stability in a region scarred by three civil wars, is key to billions of dollars in planned mining investments and could draw a line under decades of authoritarian rule since its independence from France in 1958.
Favorite and former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo's camp had insisted the run-off must take place on time, while his rival Alpha Conde says several conditions must be met before a fair poll can be held.
"We know it is going to be postponed given the delays in the provision of the necessary equipment," a source close to Diallo said just before Konate confirmed the delay.
A source close to negotiations between CENI and the two rival camps over arrangements for the run-off vote said 1,250 new voting stations were due to be installed. The credibility of June's first-round vote was marred by reports of voters having to travel 30 km (20 miles) to cast their ballot.
Conde scored 18.25 percent in the first round, while Diallo took 43.69 percent, short of the majority needed for victory.
Conde and Diallo come from Guinea's two largest ethnic groups, the Malinke and Peul respectively, and there is a risk that clashes between the two could unsettle fragile neighbors such as Liberia and Sierra Leone with similar ethnic mixes.
"A delay means the Peul will not be happy. They will see this as a victory snatched from them and there is a likelihood of civil clashes between ethnic groups," said analyst Sebastian Spio-Garbrah at London-based DaMina Advisors.
Mining companies drawn to the world's top exporter of the aluminum ore bauxite, which also boasts major iron ore reserves, could also be unnerved by a protracted delay.
Joint ventures of Rio Tinto and Chinalco, and Vale and BSG Resources, have together announced more than $5 billion in iron ore investments between them this year.
(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Writing by Mark John and Richard Valdmanis; editing by Matthew Jones)