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Guinea-Bissau votes amid fears of violence

GUINEA - BISSAU: Guinea-Bissau voted to choose between two former leaders in a presidential run-off on Sunday that many fear could stir violence rather than restore stability in the West African nation.

Malam Bacai Sanha, interim president from 1999 to 2000, is widely tipped to beat Kumba Yala, whose record in power between 2000 and 2003 left bitter memories in the former Portuguese colony which has endured years of coups and political violence.

Already desperately poor and struggling to secure aid money and lure investors, Guinea-Bissau suffered tit-for-tat assassinations of its army chief and his arch-enemy President Joao Bernardo Vieira in March.

Sanha won the most votes in a presidential election on June 28 but fell short of an outright majority. Yala's history of unpredictable behaviour - he unilaterally declared himself president in 2005, temporarily seizing the presidential palace - and his close links with the armed forces have led to calls for restraint.

"We particularly call on the losing party to refrain from taking any form of violent actions that could further undermine the fragile stability in the country," two international conflict resolution organisations said in a joint statement.

Voting was calm, orderly and well-organised in the main, said Johan Van Ecke, chief of the European Union's observer mission, one of several international scrutineers, though turnover was similarly low to that of the first round. Armed forces chief Jose Zamora Induta called on candidates to respect the outcome of the election, which is expected to be known by Wednesday.

"The military will not accept any disturbances to the process," he said, echoing international concerns about the likelihood of the loser disputing the result.

In an open letter to the candidates, the International Crisis Group and the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation said any challenge to the result should be taken to the courts, not onto the streets.

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