Guinea vote to be postponed by at least 2 weeks, warehouse storing poll materials catches fire

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — A critical presidential runoff in Guinea will be postponed by at least two weeks, an official said Thursday, and another official said a warehouse full of voting materials caught fire.

Election commission spokesman Pathe Dieng said the warehouse in the capital was storing voting materials such as ballot boxes and flashlights for use in rural polling stations during Sunday's vote. He said he didn't know if ballots were affected by the fire, or what caused the blaze.

"We're told it's a short circuit but the military is on site and we're investigating to see if there's any foul play," he said.

Earlier Thursday, the National Independent Electoral Commission's head of communication, Thierno Ceydou Bayo, said the commission would delay the vote by at least two weeks, in the wake of violent clashes last week between supporters of rival political parties.

"There will be no election this Sunday," he said. "We have not yet decided on a new date. One option is to delay it by two weeks. But there are others that are proposing three weeks."

Any delay is likely to heighten tension in the capital, where campaigning was temporarily suspended after last week's violence.

In order for the election to be suspended, the military general in charge of overseeing Guinea's transition to civilian rule must issue a decree. Gen. Sekouba Konate has not yet issued the decree, but implied in televised comments the election could not be held Sunday.

The leading presidential candidate, Cellou Dalein Diallo, has accused the government of purposefully delaying the election in order to give the underdog a chance to catch up in the polls. Diallo received 44 percent of the vote during the first round, while competitor Alpha Conde won 18 percent.

The head of planning for the West African country's electoral commission on Wednesday told The Associated Press that it is "not tenable" to hold the election on Sunday. El Hadj Boubacar Diallo said that the delay was due to the late arrival of voting materials, and not due to politics.

Voting cards for 460,000 of the roughly 4.3 million registered voters are still being printed in South Africa and will not arrive in Conakry until Saturday, the day before the scheduled vote. Diallo said it will take at least four days for the cards to be transported to distribution centers in remote provinces and another seven days for them to be handed out to voters, pushing back the election to at least the end of the month.

Many hope the upcoming vote will mark a turning point for the troubled, mineral-rich nation that has known only authoritarian rule since winning independence from France in 1958. The first round of voting in June was met with excitement, but the multiple delays since then have cast a pall over the runoff.