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Doubts growing about Sunday election in Guinea

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Doubts growing about Sunday election in Guinea

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CONAKRY, Guinea — Supporters of the leading candidate in this weekend's historic presidential runoff election called Tuesday for Guinea's prime minister to step down, as doubts grew about whether the West African nation would go ahead with the vote.

Any delay is sure to escalate tension in this mineral-rich country that has only known authoritarian rule since winning independence from France more than half a century ago. Over the weekend, street fighting between supporters of rival political parties left one person dead and 54 others wounded.

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Only days before Sunday's vote, hundreds of thousands of voting cards have not yet arrived and the trucks needed to transport materials to distant villages are still idling at a warehouse in the capital.

Supporters of front-runner Cellou Dalein Diallo accused Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore of favoring the underdog candidate and said late Tuesday that Dore should resign or be dismissed from his duties.

"He is not credible — he should leave to save Guinea," said Faya Millimono, a spokesman for the alliance backing the leading candidate.

The first round of voting in June was met with excitement, but the multiple delays since then have cast a pall over the runoff. Diallo has accused 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.

On Monday, Dore declined to directly answer whether the weekend election would in fact be delayed. However, he added: "We will not hold an election if this will end in a fistfight."

Boubacar Diallo, the commission's director of planning, said though that it was "highly improbable" that the election would go ahead Sunday. "It is a purely technical problem," he said.

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

Those disputes include arguments over who should have replaced the ailing head of the commission, Ben Sekou Sylla, whose death was announced Tuesday. Sylla was one of two officials charged with vote tampering during the first presidential poll in June. He was sentenced last week to one year in prison.

Guinea had multiple elections during the 24-year rule of autocrat Lansana Conte, but because the polls were openly rigged until his death two years ago no one gave much thought to the mechanics of the vote, Cote said.

It was only after the first round of the current presidential race in June that election authorities realized the flaws in the system, including the fact that there were not enough polling stations.

Between June and September, the commission spent weeks mapping more than 1,600 new polling centers, a time-consuming process that meant that other tasks fell by the wayside, Cote said.

For example, the envelopes in which voters must place their ballots were supposed to be printed in Sweden. Diallo says they have not yet been ordered because the financing fell through. His staff is due to meet this week with another vendor in neighboring Senegal, but even if they agree on a price, he says it is unlikely the envelopes will be ready in time for Sunday.

Voting cards for roughly one-tenth of the electorate are also still with a printer in South Africa, he said.

And even if the trucks carrying voting materials were to leave Guinea's capital first thing Tuesday, they most likely will not reach the rain-soaked interior of the country in time for Sunday's vote, where major towns are several days by road and some remote polling stations can only be reached on foot.

Meanwhile, campaigning has remained suspended following the weekend pre-election violence.

At party headquarters, Cellou Dalein Diallo's supporters spent Monday in plastic lawn chairs planning what they would do if the election was again delayed. Diallo got 44 percent of the vote during the first round, and his supporters are convinced that he will win the election in a landslide against Conde, who got only 18 percent.

"If (Prime Minister) Jean-Marie Dore tries to delay the election one more time, he won't be able to sleep anywhere in Guinea," said Ibrahima Balde, 39, as the group of young men surrounding him erupted in applause.

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI (Associated Press)

Associated Press Writer Boubacar Diallo contributed to this report

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