- coups - elections - Guinea-Bissau
AFP - Guinea-Bissau goes to the polls Sunday in an election where the key contenders are promising to bring stability and peace to one of Africa's poorest and coup-wracked states.
The current political crisis in the West African country, a notorious transit point for the drugs trade to Europe, was sparked by the March murder of president Joao Bernardo Vieira.
The leader, who ruled Guinea-Bissau for 23 years, was killed by members of the army on March 2 in apparent revenge for a bomb attack that claimed the life of the army chief, General Batista Tagme Na Waie.
Eleven candidates, including three former presidents, are in the running, as one pulled out after the army killed two senior politicians on June 5 after they were accused by the government of plotting a coup.
One favourite is Malam Bacai Sanha, who served as interim president from June 1999 to May 2000 and who is the candidate for the long-dominant African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
The PAIGC already controls 67 of the 100 seats in the country's national assembly.
The other aspirants are former presidents Kumba Yala (2000-2003), who was toppled in a coup and whose reign was marked by wide fiscal mismanagement and sweeping arrests of opposition figures, and Henrique Rosa (2003-2005).
Both Yala and Rosa have also made stability and peace the main planks of their electoral campaigns.
A second round, anticipated for July 28, could also take place to decide on the new president.
Around 600,000 of the country's 1.3 million inhabitants are eligible to vote when polling stations open at 7 am (0700 GMT). Voting is due to end at 5 pm.
Observers have been sceptical that Guinea-Bissau is ready for a vote after the recent upsurge in violence.
In a bid to ensure Sunday's election runs smoothly, regional west African bloc ECOWAS announced that it had paid the country's armed forces three months salary they were owed and issued a call for pledges of support to help after the vote.
But other government employees, also unpaid for three months, still face uncertainty in a state which was ranked 175 out of 177 countries in the 2007-2008 human development report by the United Nations Development Programme.
The elections costing around 5.1 million euros (7.1 million dollars) is entirely funded by foreign donors.
The European Union is sending election observers to the former Portuguese colony, which won its independence in 1974 but has since been overwhelmed and weakened by the international drugs trade.
Observers say the sudden influx of drugs money has considerably raised the stakes in the ongoing power feuds between the army and politicians.