The people of Guinea are going to the polls for a presidential run-off election.

It had been hailed as the country’s first democratic election since independence from France in 1958.

The candidates – former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo and the opposition leader, Alpha Conde – come from Guinea’s two largest ethnic groups.

Their supporters have clashed many times since the first round in June, and the run-off had been delayed twice.

Guinea has been led since January by the interim government of Gen Sekouba Konate, who took over from the leaders of a 2008 coup.

The military seized power after the death of the autocratic President, Lansana Conte, who had ruled the mineral-rich state for 24 years.

‘Civic duty’

On Friday night, both presidential hopefuls came together to issue a joint statement calling for calm during and after voting.

Mr Diallo expressed their “commitment to strive for a peaceful, free and democratic election” throughout Guinea.

“We urgently appeal to all citizens of our country to carry out their civic duty in peace, tranquillity and serenity… and that they make election day on 7 November and the post-election period, a historic moment of rediscovered brotherhood,” he said.

Mr Conde added: “We call on the authorities to make every effort to ensure the safety of one and all across the country. We reiterate our commitment to putting the best interests of our nation above all.”

The head of the UN Office for West Africa, Said Djinnit, told the Reuters news agency that he was confident that “all that can be done has been done” by Guinea’s electoral commission, but admitted that “nothing is perfect”.

Correspondents say there remains a high risk of violence between the country’s two largest ethnic groups – the Peul and Malinke – if the results are challenged. Recent months have seen several deadly clashes.

Mr Diallo, a Peul, is seen as the favourite for the presidency after gaining 44% of the first round vote in June, compared to 18% for Mr Conde, a Malinke. The opposition leader later complained of fraud.

Last week, dozens of supporters of Mr Conde’s Rally for the People of Guinea (RPG) began vomiting after attending a rally. When pro-Conde websites reported that they had been poisoned by members of Mr Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces in Guinea (UDFG), fighting broke out.

Despite being the largest ethnic group, a Peul has never been president. The Malinke are heavily represented in the ruling military junta.

Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite. It also has important deposits of iron ore. But despite its mineral wealth, the country is one of the poorest in West Africa.

Source: BBC