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Guinea's first free election praised for transparency

By the CNN Wire Staff
Voters queue outside a polling station in Conakry, the Guinean capital.
Voters queue outside a polling station in Conakry, the Guinean capital.
  • Voting democratic and inclusive, Carter Center says
  • West African country ruled by authoritarian, military governments for decades
  • Demonstrators against most recent coup massacred by military, U.S. and human rights group say
  • More than 150 killed, scores raped in September protest
  • Guinea
  • West Africa

(CNN) -- International observers Monday applauded the first free presidential election in Guinea in more than 50 years, saying it was democratic, inclusive and transparent.

"This is the first time since independence that the people of Guinea have had a chance to be regarded as human beings politically, to express themselves politically," said Carter Center official John Stremlau, who is in the west African nation as a monitor.

"The people were given the opportunity and conducted themselves on election day with dignity, in an orderly and peaceful way," said Stremlau, the vice president of the Carter Center's peace programs and co-leader of its election observation mission.

Results should be available Wednesday, and will almost certainly show a runoff will be required, said Deborah Hakes of the Carter Center.

Voters came out in large numbers, they were enthusiastic and often showed great patience, the Carter Center said in a statement.

Counting of ballots was transparent, in full view of everyone at polling stations, it added.

The country has been ruled by a series of authoritarian and military dictators since it gained independence from France, its former colonial master, in 1958.

The most recent coup came in December 2008, the day after the death of longtime President Lansana Conte, who himself seized power in 1984.

Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara led the 2008 coup and promised elections and the introduction of civilian rule, but by the following summer it seemed clear that he planned to run for president himself, according to the U.S. State Department.

The opposition organized a protest against him in a stadium in the capital Conakry in September 2009, but the military attacked the demonstrators.

At least 150 people were killed, more than 100 were raped and at least 1,000 were injured, according to the U.S. government and international human rights groups.

At least 100 bodies were never found, Human Rights Watch said.

Camara was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by an aide in December 2009, and flown abroad for medical treatment.

He survived, but agreed not to return to the country.

Minister of Defense Brig. Gen. Sekouba Konate became interim president, paving the way for the elections Sunday.

Twenty-four candidates are running for president, including four former prime ministers, according to Human Rights Watch, which has been cautiously optimistic about the vote.

"The Defense Ministry's promise to keep the military in barracks during the election period, and to back whoever wins is a very positive sign," Human Rights Watch said Friday.

"A successful, credible election could finally end over 50 years of authoritarian and abusive rule," the activist group said.

"The new president and government will have their work cut out for them," HRW's Corinne Dufka said. "They should waste no time addressing the deep-rooted causes of years of crisis -- endemic corruption, impunity, crushing poverty, and the inequitable distribution of natural resource wealth."

The country's electoral officials, cell phone companies and U.S. embassy have worked together to set up a system where voters can send text messages if they see voter fraud or intimidation, U.S. Ambassador Patricia Newton Moller said.

Guinea, a country of about 10 million people, has rich reserves of bauxite, an important aluminum ore -- possibly as much as half the world's reserves, according to the State Department.

It also has gold and diamond mines, and grows rice, coffee, bananas, pineapples and palm products.