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Doubts cloud Guinea runoff election

(Audio available further in this article)

The country's electoral commission chief dies, compounding problems for presidential runoff vote set for the weekend.

Tensions in Guinea could delay an historic presidential runoff vote, set for this weekend, after the death of the man responsible for running the election.

Ben Sekou Sylla, chief of Guinea's electoral commission, died in a Paris hospital of a long-term illness, a family friend said on Tuesday.

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Hundreds of voting cards for the election have not arrived and the lorries needed to transport materials to distant villages are still idling at a warehouse in the capital, Conakry.

"It is highly improbable that the election will be held this Sunday," Boubacar Diallo, the commission's director of planning, said. "It is a purely technical problem."

Rioting

Compounding logistical problems, at least one person died and more than 50 were injured in rioting on Sunday.

But the unrest seems to have ended. "Conakry is very calm today and everyone seems to be going about their business," Youssouf Bah, a journalist in Guinea, told Al Jazeera.

Guinea's prime minister declined on Monday to directly answer whether the election would in fact be delayed. However, he said: "We will not hold an election if this will end in a fistfight."

Many had hoped that the forthcoming vote will mark a turning point for the troubled, mineral-rich nation that has known only authoritarian rule since winning independence from France in 1958.
 
The first round of voting in June was met with excitement, but the multiple delays since then have cast a pall over the runoff.

Political squabbles

Cellou Dalein Diallo, the leading presidential contender, accuses the government of purposely delaying the vote in order to give the No 2 finisher Alpha Conde a chance to catch up in the polls.

Elizabeth Cote, a Guinea-based election expert of the International Foundation for Election Systems, said that political squabbles inside the commission have distracted the body from getting ready for the historic vote.

Those disputes include arguments over who should replace Sylla, who was one of two officials charged with vote tampering during the first presidential poll in June.

Prior to his death on Tuesday, he was sentenced last week to one year in prison.

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