Guinea postpones presidential poll, no new date set

CONAKRY, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Guinean authorities delayed on Friday a presidential election run-off due in two days without setting a new date, casting doubt on the West African state’s hopes for civilian rule and provoking fresh protests.

The vote, meant to transfer power from the military to a democratically-elected government in the world’s top bauxite exporter, has been delayed repeatedly amid street violence and rows over leadership of the electoral commission.

“The October 24 date is not possible,” commission head General Siaka Sangare told a news conference, adding that a new date would be announced after the commission further assesses preparations for the poll.

Security forces used teargas to quell street protests that erupted in a neighbourhood of the capital Conakry after the announcement, according to a Reuters witness, extending weeks of demonstrations that have occasionally turned violent.

Analysts said the new delay would give the electoral commission time to fix problems found during the first round of voting in June, but could also raise the risk of ethnically-driven clashes or a new military coup.

Guinea, which has endured decades of harsh authoritarian rule since independence from France in 1958, has been in the hands of a military junta since a putsch in December 2008 following the death of strongman President Lansana Conte.

“This election was bound to be delayed because of the many technical problems that still need to be resolved,” said Mohamed Jalloh, analyst at International Crisis Group. “But there are risks to a delay as well.”

Sangare was nominated to head Guinea’s electoral commission earlier this week after one of the presidential candidates, former Prime Minister Cellou Dallein Diallo, accused his predecessor of prefering his rival Alpha Conde.

Diallo, who hails from the country’s largest ethnic group, the Malinke, took over 43 percent of the first round vote. Conde, from the second most populous ethnic group, the Peul, took just over 18 percent.

The first round of voting on June 27 passed off in relative calm despite fears of violence in the mineral-rich country, which has attracted billions of dollars in investments from companies such as Rio Tinto and Vale.

Both candidates have said they would review mining deals, particularly those signed during the junta’s leadership.