Guinea's interim prime minister denies bias ahead of tense presidential run-off vote

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Guinea's interim prime minister said Sunday he's not backing a candidate in next month's historic presidential run-off election despite allegations he favors the underdog and is trying to manipulate the outcome.

The mineral-rich West African nation recently survived the one-year rule of a brutal military junta, and the Sept. 19 vote could choose the country's first democratically elected leader ever. However, the front-runner has said that he believes Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore wants the other candidate to win.

"When you organize elections of this importance, you have to avoid all the mistakes possible. We don't want to repeat the weaknesses of the first round in the second. We have to give the same chance to all the candidates," Dore said Sunday.

According to documents given to The Associated Press, Guinea's interim government wants to change the electoral code so that a ministry under the authority of Dore's office will help organize and supervise the vote along with the independent electoral commission.

"This is an attempt by the prime minister to manipulate the vote. He knows that his candidate cannot win and so he wants to lay the groundwork for massive fraud," said presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, who clinched 44 percent during the first round in June.

Diallo is squaring off against longtime opposition leader Alpha Conde, who received around 20 percent of the vote in the first round. Dore said Sunday that he considers both candidates to be his friends.

The initial vote held on June 27 has been praised as the first free vote since independence from France in 1958 and comes after decades of dictatorship that culminated in the yearlong rule of coup leader Moussa "Dadis" Camara.

Last September, Guinea hit rock bottom when the military sealed off a stadium where thousands of protesters had rallied to insist Camara step down. In broad daylight, security forces burst through the gates and machine-gunned unarmed crowds, slaughtering more than 150 people. They also wounded more than 1,000 and gang-raped women, some with rifle butts and bayonets.

Camara was shot in the head a few months later by his presidential guard and exiled to Burkina Faso, where he remains as part of a peace deal. The junta's No. 2 agreed to hand over power to a civilian interim government ahead of an election.

Still, concerns remain about the upcoming September vote and its outcome. Diallo, the leading candidate, is a member of the Peul ethnic group, the country's largest and which has systematically been shut out of power under previous regimes.

Peul community leaders have vowed to lead a revolt if election results are distorted to prevent Diallo from winning. Conde, his opponent, is a Malinke, a group heavily represented in the military junta.

Guinea's people are among the poorest in Africa, despite the fact the country hosts one of the world's largest reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum, and billions of dollars worth of iron ore, diamonds and gold.