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Kabbah declared winner in S. Leone

President Kabbah is back in power with a landslide poll win
President Kabbah is back in power with a landslide poll win  

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- The leader who brought peace to strife-torn Sierra Leone was confirmed landslide winner of the country's-first post-war election on Sunday.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah triumphed as the man who brought peace to the impoverished West African nation after a decade of bloodshed.

The country's former rebels were roundly trounced in the poll.

A party created by militants blamed for savage atrocities against civilians crashed out without winning even one seat in parliament from Tuesday's ballot.

The deployment of the biggest current U.N. peacekeeping force made the election possible.

CNN's Ben Wedeman says voters began lining up hours before polls opened in Freetown, Sierra Leone (May 14)

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Presidential elections provide first major test of Sierra Leone's peace. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports (May 14)

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Reports from Sierra Leone native and cameraman Sorious Samura: 
Cry Freetown  (1999)
Return to Freetown  (January 2002)

Thousands of people celebrated on the streets of the capital Freetown as the announcement of Kabbah's victory for a new five-year term was made.

Opposition party activists accused the authorities of fraud and intimidation in the heartland of Kabbah's Sierra Leone People's Party. But international observers gave their approval to the most peaceful ballot since independence from Britain in 1961.

"By the constitution of Sierra Leone I do hereby declare Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as duly elected president... for the next five years," Electoral Commission Chairman Walter Nicol said.

Kabbah won 70.03 percent of the votes, easily topping the 55 percent he needed to avoid a second round against Ernest Koroma, candidate of Sierra Leone's former ruling party, the All People's Congress.

Kabbah's party also secured a majority in parliament, where he has relied on the support of smaller parties since 1996.

"He gave us the peace that you can see on the streets. We just had to vote for him," Aisatu Bah, whose shop full of brightly printed cloth, ribbons and cosmetics reflects Sierra Leone's mini-boom since the end of the war, told Reuters.

Kabbah, a 70-year-old former diplomat who spent two decades out of the country of 5.3 million before returning to win 1996 elections, is credited by Sierra Leoneans with bringing the massive foreign intervention that ended the war.

More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters in the biggest U.N. peacekeeping success in Africa for many years after debacles in the 1990s in Angola, Rwanda and Somalia.

But analysts say that behind the U.N. back-slapping and the explosion of joy onto Freetown's streets after Kabbah won, the problems of poverty, tribal rivalry and official corruption that caused the war are far from over.

The army's solid backing for Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of a junta that ousted Kabbah for several months from 1997 to 1998, has raised questions over how strongly it supports him despite new British training. Koroma's party won two seats in parliament.

The response of former rebels, who hacked the hands off voters after the 1996 ballot, could also be unpredictable. While their leaders profess peace, all they got from the ballot was the consolation of coming fourth of 12 parties, but it was not enough to get any seats in parliament.

"The time to build a party was really too short, especially with the image problem. We will have to start working now for five years time," Pallo Bangura, presidential candidate of the Revolutionary United Front Party, told Reuters.

Most rebels wanted their charismatic guerrilla leader Foday Sankoh to stand in the election, but he has been detained since

May 2000 and is on trial for murder. He is also likely to face a U.N.-backed war crimes court.


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