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Sierra Leone president eyes new term amid mining boom

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A woman walks past campaign posters for incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012. Ten years after the end of a devastating civil war, Sierra Leone will go to the polls on Saturday to choose between incumbent Koroma and opposition leader Julius Maada Bio.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A Sierra Leone People's Party supporter wears glasses made of wire and reeds in the shape of the party's initials at the final campaign rally for candidate Julius Maada Bio, in Freetown, Nov. 15.

TILORMA, Sierra Leone (Reuters) — When the European Union's chief election observer Richard Howitt asked people in this remote village last month if they had concerns about Sierra Leone's looming presidential poll, he got a sobering response: what is voting?

The question from one of the villagers in the gold and diamond mining district of Kenema underscored the challenges facing this West African country ahead of Saturday's elections, which will become the latest test of democracy in a region notorious for flawed polls, civil wars, and coups.

Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma, a former insurance executive who came to power in 2007 in elections generally considered free and fair, will face off against former junta leader Julius Maada Bio. Full story…

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Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio waves to supporters as his campaign convoy drives through the Kissy neighborhood, en route to his final campaign rally in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Supporters of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio fill the street as his campaign convoy drives through the Kissy neighborhood, en route to Bio's final campaign rally in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15. A few supporters displayed symbolic, or real, guns to symbolize the laying down of arms in favor of a non-violent election process.

Joe Penney / Reuters

A military police officer stands guard at the final campaign rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio in downtown Freetown, Nov. 15. Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma, a former insurance executive who came to power in 2007 in elections generally considered free and fair, will face off against former junta leader Bio.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio rests on a stadium field as he waits for Bio to arrive at his final campaign rally in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15.