Guinea voters urged to set their sights on stability

Voters in Guinea went to the polls yesterday, forming long queues for their first chance to freely elect a leader since their country secured independence from France in 1958.

A smooth election would not only act as a potential trigger for the investment needed to exploit the West African country's vast mineral riches and revive its economy, it could also act as a green light to international donors and lenders. And a clean vote could also boost pro-democracy movements in a region that has seen a string of coups and tainted elections.

Last September, an army crackdown on pro-democracy marchers led to more than 150 deaths and took Guinea close to civil war. Weeks later, junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara was wounded in an assassination attempt by an aide, and his Western-backed successor pledged to hand rule back to civilians.

Former Nigerian head of state General Yakubu Gowon, leading the Carter Centre's election observation mission, said voting was going well.

Guinea is the world's top exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite, and multinational mining companies are wrestling over its lucrative iron ore resources, yet a third of the population of 10 million live in poverty.

Sekouba Konate, the soldier who succeeded Camara as junta leader and who insists he has no interest in political power, told Guineans they were at a turning point.

"I say to Guineans, it's your choice: freedom, peace and democracy, or instability and violence," he told reporters.