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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 20:49 GMT 21:49 UK
S Leone campaign ends in riots
Man runs to avoid clashes between rival political parties as a UN tank intervenes
The campaign had been largely peaceful
test hello test
By Mark Doyle
BBC West Africa correspondent
line

United Nations troops in Sierra Leone have intervened to break up riots in the centre of the capital, Freetown, as opposing political parties clashed.

British marines in May 2000
Britain intervened in the war and helped retrain combatants
Several people were seriously injured by the stone-throwing supporters of the ruling party and former rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, RUF.

This is the first significant electoral violence in the campaign ahead of Tuesday's elections which are meant to mark the end of a decade-long war.

The clashes came as campaigning ended for the landmark presidential poll.

Peaceful campaign

UN troops in armoured personnel carriers fired into the air to break up crowds of hundreds of rival supporters.

I saw several people with serious head wounds and at one point it looked like the crowds would get completely out of control.


The peace that is reigning here need to be built upon and to be strengthened and fires can still be lit and they can burn

General Daniel Opande, UN commander
Injured former rebels with head wounds from flying stones tried to commandeer my car to take them to hospital, but were stopped by the Sierra Leonean police.

After the UN intervened, a semblance of order returned and this isolated incident should be seen in the context of a so far remarkably peaceful election campaign.

Contest

After the intervention of British troops on the side of the government army two years ago, the former rebels began laying down their arms and agreed to participate in these elections.

The incumbent President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is contesting against eight other hopefuls in what promises to be a hard fought race.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
President Kabbah wants to claim the credit for ending the war
The main rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, is not standing because he is in jail facing charges of murder. Many of the former rebels involved in the unrest on Saturday want to see Mr Sankoh released, but this is most unlikely to happen.

The elections follow a decade of war and the successful intervention of the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world to help end a brutal conflict marked by widespread atrocities against civilians.

Colourful campaign

Campaigning has been colourful and enthusiastic in what could be the most democratic elections Sierra Leone has ever seen.

Foday Sankoh
The RUF leader is in jail
Holding an election is not the answer to everything in this country devastated by war.

For one thing the conflict has only be officially over for a few months.

The commander of the UN peacekeeping force, General Daniel Opande, says peace is still fragile.

"Let's say the worst is, perhaps, behind us, but the peace that is reigning here need to be built upon and to be strengthened and fires can still be lit and they can burn," General Opande says.

Much of the debate has been on the record of the war with Mr Kabbah saying he brought the UN in and so brought peace.

The RUF disagree.

Next week's historic election could be a success story for the international community and bring much needed relief to a people exhausted by war.

As the campaigning finishes, a lot of fingers are crossed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The centre of Freetown was in chaos for hours"
See also:

10 May 02 | Africa
Sierra Leone troops vote early
28 Mar 02 | Africa
Sankoh barred from poll
13 Mar 02 | Africa
In pictures: Foday Sankoh emerges
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
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