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World News

Guinea vote went well despite hitches say observers

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea’s first free election since independence in 1958 experienced some technical problems but appeared to have gone off smoothly and won praise in nearby nations, where voters are also hungry for elections.

Traffic flowed again and shops reopened in the capital Conakry after a shutdown during the voting on Sunday, which saw Guineans flock to polling booths from before dawn to produce a turnout of 80 percent, according to a local observer network.

“People are almost pinching themselves that it’s gone so well so far,” said a Western diplomat in Conakry of a presidential vote that could help bring more investment to the West African mining giant and unlock aid needed to rebuild an economy shattered by decades of graft and strong-arm misrule.

Residents complied with a ban on large gatherings on polling day, and no trouble was reported overnight.

The 24 candidates and their supporters are waiting for preliminary results from the election commission, expected by Wednesday. With such a large number of candidates, the first round of voting is unlikely to produce a winner and a run-off, penciled in for July 18, will probably be necessary.

IHS Global Insight said that the role of ethnicity would come into play and the contest would likely heat up with a run-off between the frontrunners, former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and long-time opposition figure Alpha Conde.

The contest has been closely watched in a region where a series of coups, and questionable or delayed elections, have retarded efforts to establish peace and democracy.

“The difference between Ivory Coast and Guinea is very simple: Guinean politicians wanted to have an election,” said Della Omer, an unemployed geography lecturer in Ivory Coast, where post-war elections have been on hold for over five years.

“No one is fooled anymore. If the politicians here wanted an election tomorrow, they could do it,” Omer added.

Nakonni Moussa, a teacher in Niger -- where the army ousted a president clinging to power in a February coup and has vowed elections next year -- was more optimistic.

“I’m so happy about what has happened in Guinea as soon we should be experiencing the same feelings in Niger,” Moussa said.

TAKING AN OPPORTUNITY

Before the official publication of reports by election observers, immediate impressions of the poll were generally positive, despite some technical hitches.

The United States on Sunday hailed the vote’s conduct.

“There were of course some serious technical problems in polling stations, especially in the north,” said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, head of the EU observer mission, referring to some voters finding their names missing from election lists.

“(But) the Guinean people have taken this opportunity to choose the future of the country by choosing their leader in a free and fair manner and we will see what happens in the coming days,” he told French radio RFI.

Lambsdorff said it was too early to say whether the problems would have an impact on the credibility of the vote. “I will not speculate. For now, it has been an excellent day for Guinea.”

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Guineans to maintain the calm that characterized voting.

“As Guinea awaits the results of the vote, the Secretary - General calls on all concerned to continue to respect their commitments to a peaceful process based on respect of the rule of law, and to accept the outcome,” he said in a statement.

Guinea is the world’s No.1 exporter of the aluminum ore bauxite, and international mining firms are keen to tap into its iron ore reserves. All candidates have vowed to review the mining sector, though few details have been given.

“It is likely that the new government will follow the growing trend in mineral-rich countries to focus on taxation as a means of ostensibly ensuring that mineral wealth is in the public interest,” IHS said in a note issued on Monday.

Guinea has been gripped by political instability before and after the death of veteran ruler Lansana Conte in late 2008.

Only last September an army crackdown on pro-democracy marchers resulted in more than 150 deaths and took Guinea close to civil war. Weeks later, junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara was wounded in an assassination attempt and his Western-backed successor pledged to hand back rule to civilians.

Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Abidjan and Abdoulaye Massalatchi in Niamey; Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood

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